My Thoughts on Ovo

“My Thoughts on Ovo”
a Fascination! Guest Submission
By: Wayne Leung – Ottawa, Ontario (Canada)
{As Published on Cirque Tribune}

I just got back from the first pubic performance of OVO. To describe the show in a word: mediocre.

While the show has a few worthwhile moments, a few high-level acts and some good design elements, as a whole, none of it really comes together into a cohesive whole and and the show really suffers from a lack of direction. I really didn’t find OVO all that engaging as a show. Overall, I think it’s in better shape than Kooza was at its premiere (however, that’s not saying much considering I pretty much thought Kooza was a disaster at premiere and it’s still near the bottom on my list of Cirque shows)


Some of the show’s design elements are very good. I like the set design, the layered backdrop is interesting aesthetically and the reference to spider webs makes for some interesting imagery.


The lighting design was really sub-par, after seeing some of the brilliant designs of previous lighting designers I thought OVO looked really amateurish. The opening was especially embarrassing, purposeless strobe lights and flashing coloured lights onto the giant egg? It looked cheesy and I thought to myself, “Where am I? The grade 8 dance?” The lighting definitely was not used creatively or purposefully to accentuate the scenic composition in the way I saw in Corteo and Zed amongst others.


I’m divided on the costumes; I sat up close and was literally face-to-face with one of the cricket characters in the opening and could really see the intricate details and the pleating work done in the costumes but I generally don’t like the style of the costumes. The style came off as an unsuccessful amalgam of insects and cheesy 1960s sci-fi aliens plus some other things way out of left-field like the contortionists (spiders) costumes being almost exact rip-offs from Cats, the musical or the ridiculous cockroach costumes for the musicians (although I will admit the singer’s cockroach dress and headpiece had me in stitches).


After the complete lack of character-work for Kooza I was glad to see at least some for OVO, the different groups of insects are given unique movements and character traits. I especially thought the cricket characters were really well-developed and were reminiscent of some of the engaging animal-inspired characters in Mystère. The other character groups still need more work in developing their characters but to the show’s credit the characters (with the exception of the three main characters) aren’t as “cartoony” as I feared they’d be and thankfully, unlike in Kooza, the performers don’t annoyingly break character after every trick to flap their arms like idiots and cry out for more applause.

The clowning was generally pretty bad. On the scale of annoying-to-engaging the three main characters are definitely way more toward the annoying end. Flipo played by Joseph Collard was vaguely reminiscent of Brian Dewhurst in Nouvelle Éxperience minus the sophistication and poise, François-Guillaume Leblanc who plays the Stranger channels John Gilkey but is so over the top in his portrayal he makes Gilkey seem subtle! Michelle Matlock’s lady bug is the most tolerable of the trio and in her best moments succeeds in coming off as cute. Though the clowning is very weak it’s still better than the low-brow insufferable clowning in Kooza and OVO’s clown interludes are mercifully brief and should remain so.


Since the show was directed by a choreographer, I’m especially disappointed that the dance elements in the show were so weak. The show lacked the kind of thoughtful, integrated choreographic concepts that really made the Debra Brown-choreographed shows the gold standard. The group dances featured in the show were silly and felt awkward and out-of-place (they were done in a jazz style that reminded me of mid-90s Janet Jackson music video dance choreography). OVO was a wasted opportunity for the choreographer.


Then of course there’s the music . . . supremely disappointing. It’s probably the weakest Cirque score to date. It consisted mostly of generic early-90s-sounding synth pop/rock with a little bit of Brazilian flavour and while some of it is catchy the score was generally boring and uninspired. With few exceptions it was just background music rather than anything integrated and conceptual. The musicians are excellent there are a few instrumental solos where they get to shine, I’d recognize Sebastien Savard’s airy, Quidam-style violin flights anywhere. Marie-Claude Marchand has a gorgeous voice (reminiscent of Zara Tellander) but is unfortunately, really under-used in the show and never really given anything of substance to sing.


The acts in OVO are a real hodge-podge, while the skill level is consistently high, the acts lack the thought in theatrical presentation to really make them pop in a context of a Cirque show.

The opening of the show features the insects gathering around a giant egg on the stage . . . and that’s about it, very anti-climactic.

The handbalancing act starts off the show and is one of the stronger acts in terms of presentation and artistic integration. The balancing cane is placed atop a metal spiral which enables the artist to perform some interesting choreography. The artist performs the act with grace and poise and the act is one of the few in the show where the music complements the artistic concept.

The foot juggling act is another direct transplant from the traditional Chinese circus the music features Marie-Claude’s first vocal solos but other than that there’s nothing interesting about the presentation of the act.

The web act is introduced by an interesting interlude where a performer on silks hatches herself from a nylon cocoon and spreads the silks to look like wings to evoke a butterfly. The web act itself is a nice little act if nothing particularly unique, it flows nicely but lacks any real emotion or connection with the music.

The first act closer, the flying act is spectacular and Cirque deserves credit for developing this original concept in-house when they’ve recently stuck to buying acts others have developed for their recent shows; the act combines acro sport, aerial cradle and flying trapeze techniques and while it is very high-calibre, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired; the music doesn’t suit the act at all it’s very generic background music. The act really needs a strong piece of music like the Aerial High Bar music from Mystère or Alegría to add a sense of drama to really complete the staging.

The contortion act immediately following intermission is awkward. The set-up is promising, a web of rope is strung across most of the stage extending over the first few rows of the audience. The first part of the act consists of web rope contortion, then a floor portion follows. The problem is again the lack of direction in the presentation; the act has neither a strong enough choreographic concept to be considered dance nor a strong enough mise-en-scène to qualify it as a theatrical concept.

The acrosport number suffers similarly from lack of thought in its presentation. The performers are obviously highly skilled yet the “act” just consists of going down a list of tricks. I would think that a choreographer would be excited to have the opportunity to choreograph performers with such limitless possibilities in their range of movements however the choreography of the act is almost non-existent. It’s such a wasted opportunity.

The slackwire act is a highlight of the show in terms of artistic integration. The music is one of the more interesting pieces of the score featuring instrumental solos by the guitarist, violinist and accordion player (the latter two of whom are visible on-stage during the act. However, slackwire acts generally don’t lend themselves well to artistic presentation so the presentation in OVO is probably as strong as one is likely to find for such an act.

The power track/trampoline/climbing wall act is a very promising concept and the troupe performs the act with a great amount of energy, flipping down the power track, bouncing up and down the tramps and climbing on the wall in various groups. Where the act fails is again in the presentation. The music is distractingly sophomoric, with synthesizer blasts that remind me of the opening theme of an early-90s MTV show and the choreography also leaves a lot to be desired considering the brilliant staging of Cirque’s previous fast/powertrack numbers.


In some of Cirque’s best shows, the transitions are often just as interesting as the acts, if not moreso, the interstitial sequences are often given theatrical or choreographic substance which makes them engaging. Conversely, I found the transitions in OVO to be abrupt and jarring, more-so than any other Cirque show I noticed the techs running about the tent to set up the rigging, there were no attempts to make the equipment set-up seamless or incorporate the transitions into the (non-existent) theatrical concept, the number of techs running about the big top doing to do set-up was actually distracting.


OVO is missing a lot of the Cirque du Soleil value-added elements; engaging music, theatricality, choreography and general presentation quality. The presentation of OVO is all style over substance, and I don’t particularly care for OVO’s style. While I’d like to believe that they will make significant changes to improve the show and add the presentation elements it sorely lacks in the next few months their recent track record suggests otherwise.

In general OVO is really nothing special. It lacks the sophistication, direction and attention-to-detail in the presentation that are the trademark of Cirque du Soleil’s classic shows and will, quite frankly, never be up to par with the company’s best works. While parts of it are mildly entertaining it falls far short of the sublime, visceral experiences of the classic Cirque shows and is not something I’d really be interested in seeing again. It’s hardly worth the steep Cirque du Soleil ticket price and is definitely not anything I’d recommend going out-of-your way to rush to see.

OVO is desperately crying out for any type of direction, a script, an integrated choreographic concept, anything to give the show some sense of purpose. I imagine OVO is about the same level a show as Cirque Dreams or Neil Goldman’s Cirque or the other cheap direct Cirque du Soleil knock offs. The criticism of those shows is that they make a meagre attempt to copy Cirque du Soleil’s aesthetic (often unsuccessfully, resulting in tacky, non-cohesive costumes and sets and corny synthesizer music) and missing the finer points of what makes
Cirque du Soleil unique, the attention to detail in presentation, the thought put into development of concepts, the mise-en-scène used to explore deeper ideas or evoke emotions. OVO also fails on all these accounts and belongs in the same league as these cheap imitation Cirque du Soleil shows, it should be seen as an embarrassing misstep.

OVO’s mediocrity is especially disappointing because it seemed for a while that Cirque might be on the verge of a comeback after giving us the brilliant Zed, it seems for every step forward Cirque takes two steps back. OVO feels like the Cirque du Soleil machine has just mass-produced another generic show . . . It’s another miss for a company that desperately needs to get its artistic groove back.

It’s really sad to see the formerly great Cirque du Soleil slip to the level of its cheap imitators. When the quality is no better it begs the question, is Cirque du Soleil still relevant?