Cirque du Delirium

“Cirque du Delirium”
By: Paul Roberts – March 8, 2006

Cirque du Soleil stole my idea – how dare they! I once wrote an article for the Fascination! newsletter (Issue #30, February 2004, available in our Back Issues section) about creating a Cirque music cover band and now we have Cirque du Soleil’s Delirium, where the music is the focal point of the show. At first I had mixed, or should I say re-mixed, feelings because I have to admit that the dance mix songs from the “Solarium” and “Delirium” CDs were not very appealing to me. That is, until I got used to them.

After an inside source assured me that Delirium’s re-mixed music was actually more “Urban” World Beat than Dance Beat I realized that Cirque has never let me down and I just needed to experience this event. Also with nearby Columbus, Ohio, being the fifth city on the tour, I had a chance to see this brand new Cirque du Soleil show ahead of hundreds of die-hard fan acquaintances. Sorry friends, I had to rub that in.

When the show premiered in late January in Montreal, and as it started touring, the reviews seemed to lean towards disappointment, mainly because the reviewers expected Cirque’s usual acrobatics, flounes, and circus dare-devilry. I refused to let their negative thoughts deter my excitement. After all, the most important aspect of Cirque du Soleil, for me, is the music.

I took my daughter, Tara; met our friend, Kim (a.k.a. Kimba, who we serendipitously met through an on-line Cirque du Soleil fan group); and also met Ryan (a.k.a. KaliWolf, a longtime on-line acquaintance through several fan groups) for the first time. We were four hardcore fans mixed in with several thousand or so Newbies. We felt special.

When we walked into Nationwide Arena on Saturday, February 18, 2006, the hockey floor-length stage seemed a bit garish with its four large screens at the ends of the stage and overhead tacking that kind of reminded me of a straightened-out Quidam crown. Piped-in songs from the “Delirium” studio CD provided a surprising overture, being that a couple of these would soon be played live.

The very talented and lovely Nitza warmed up with one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard. I hoped she might sing “We’ve Been Waiting So Long” and “Reach For Me Now,” from the “KÀ” soundtrack, but no such luck. The five songs she sang, however, provided an energy that causes me to be impatient about the arrival of her upcoming album. A few musicians from the Delirium “house band,” accompanied her with some amazing prefaces of what was to come. Other than Nitza’s crystal, clear voice, other highlights included a searing bouzouki solo from Predrag “Pedja” Mano; some haunting melody lines from violinist, Andrée-Anne Tremblay; and a fierce duel between two tabla drummers. She received polite applause from the then-sparse crowd, but I hope she realized that she truly is amazing.

The Delirium website states: “To select the 20 songs, a committee of 11 Cirque du Soleil directors and creative minds was convened. They each compiled a list of their top songs from Cirque du Soleil’s musical catalogue of over 500 songs. From those, with the collaboration of musical director, producer and arranger Francis Collard and musical content associate producer Ian Tremblay, a final list of music was established.”

Our show actually consisted of 18 songs as changes and refinements are apparently ongoing in the early stages of the tour. The famous Cirque-ish language that is normally included in Cirque du Soleil’s music has been replaced by actual lyrics. Many penned by Robbie Dillon, who wrote the lyrics for several songs on the Zumanity soundtrack. At first I was concerned about the new words, but I knew that in general most people attending would not be familiar with the original content. I accepted the necessity of “standardizing” the lyrics. What I didn’t realize, however, was that the actual song titles would also be modified for most of the songs. An update on Cirque’s website revealed six of the new song titles.

Delirium’s band and singers consists of:
o Dessy Di Lauro-vocalist
o Jacynthe-vocalist
o Juliana Sheffield-vocalist
o El Hadji “Elage” Diouf-vocalist and percussion
o Karim Diouf-vocalist and percussion
o Elie Haroun (from the group, Gaïa)-vocalist, guitars
and percussion
o Ric’key Pageot-band leader and keyboards
o Raffaele Artigliere-percussion
o Sacha Daoud (from the group, Gaïa)-drums
o André Faleiros (from the group, Gaïa)-basses
o Predrag “Pedja” Manov-bouzouki, oud, tambura and guitars
o Alexis Messier-guitars
o Jacques “Kuba” Seguin (from the group, The Odd Lot)-trumpet,
flugel horn and percussion
o Kullak Viger Rojas (from the group, Gaïa)-percussion
o Andrée-Anne Tremblay-violin

Spoiler alert: Following is the song list (in order) with the old title (if applicable) and its original show in parenthesis, plus a review of musical and visual highlights:

“Ombra” (from Dralion) – To begin, a very short intro of the “Ombra” opening instrumental passage, without vocals.

“Too High” (Spiritual Spiral from Dralion) – Dessy Di Lauro, the expressive original vocalist for La Nouba, sang with spirited passion while gliding across the stage on a domed platform that housed several drums built into the sides. The percussionists rotated around this platform while beating the drums. This seemed like something Stomp might integrate into one of their shows.

“Birimbau” (from Mystère) – Once again, a short version with no vocals that was more like a set-up song for the appearance of the musicians, who rolled across the stage standing on moveable platforms.

“Time to Go” (Mountain of Clothes from Alegrìa le Film) – This was the most surprising song to me since it isn’t included in an actual Cirque du Soleil show. Singer Jacynthe flew in overhead wearing a sparkling, spiral gown. To me she sounded similar to Irene Marc, the original singer of the studio version. Alexis Messier shined with an energetic wah-wah guitar solo that would make Jimi proud. After the song ended, Kimba, Tara and I (Ryan had a seat in another section) looked around at the listless crowd and agreed that out of the 20,000 or so people, only the four of us knew what we were listening to. They all just had no idea; we felt special once again.

“Bridge of Sorrow” (Nostalgie from “O”) – A beautiful version of this dynamic, warm song from “O.” Mr. Dillon’s lyrics fit wonderfully with the swaying arms projected on the stage-covering screens. The spine-tingling 3-D sight proved once again that Cirque always has something extraordinary up their sleeves.

“Bour Mowote (apparently this has been renamed again)” (Africa from “O”) – “Africa” appears on both the “Solarium” (twice) and “Delirium” CDs and yet another rendition is born. One of the Diouf brothers sang it nicely, but in a lower register than Toumany Kouyaté from “O.” The projection of alien flowers rendered an exotic ambience that took you to places unknown. And…was it me, or did an alluring aroma start filling the air? Being Cirque du Soleil, I wouldn’t be surprised if they pumped some special scent into the atmosphere.

“Saloum” (Le Rêveur from Varekai) – Vocalist Juliana Sheffield made her first appearance that also included an amazing hand balancing performance from Andrey Koltsov. This song also featured Jacques “Kuba” Seguin playing a melodic flugelhorn solo while floating in a ring high above the stage.

“Battle” (Not sure of the origin, but this sounded like a cross between Mystère’s Taïko and Dralion’s Bamboo) – Needless to say this was a percussion song that, for me, turned out to be the highlight of the show. During this onslaught of every performer pounding away on drums and running around like they were possessed, I realized that one of the signature trademarks of all Cirque du Soleil shows is the appearance of a percussion number. La Nouba has an actual trap set drum solo, Quidam has the performers playing various sized drums, one of Varekai’s Georgian Dancers pounds on his own personal drum, and so on. It is only fitting that a show featuring the music of Cirque incorporates the most intense Cirque percussion number right in the middle of the concert.

“Someone” (Patzivota from Varekai) – Similar to Varekai’s lightning bugs, twinkling small lights appeared to be hovering above the stage. But soon, performers began to grab the lights, which were on the end of straps, and they flew out over the audience. Except for the familiar opening melody line that was easily recognizable, I really don’t recall too much of the actual song, as I was mesmerized by the flyers.

“Alone” (Querer from Alegrìa) – Cirque du Soleil’s most romantic song began with Jacynthe singing by herself on stage behind red drapes. The song then morphed into a tango similar to the version performed during the Midnight Sun celebration. I love Mr. Dillon’s chorus: “I fly…Looking down from the sky…On a world that’s so small…You can’t touch me at all…I’m too high.”

“Desejo” (Emballa from Varekai) – This just simply rocks, Latin style. I remember hearing “Emballa” the first time with Tara and we looked at each other in bewilderment at that bizarre chorus. This song is one of my favorite tunes to sing (when no one else is listening, of course). The live version featured an energized Rhodes electric piano-like solo from Ric’key Pageot that made the Latin beat even jazzier. And to boot, one of the climax visuals of the show was Dessy being lifted in the air wearing a 30-foot “volcano dress.” At the end of the song, performers placed stakes at the bottom of her skirt to fashion a Grand Chapiteau that housed the dancers partying to the rhythms; a nice homage paid to the roots of Cirque. When the excitement died down, Jacques “Kuba” Seguin played a subtle, muted flugelhorn solo that lead into the next famous tune.

“Let Me Fall” (from Quidam) – So Columbus, how many of you thought this was a Josh Groban song? The Delirium version seemed a little rushed with Elie Haroun attempting the difficult vocal part. It is nearly impossible to duplicate Mathieu Lavoie and/or Mr. Groban, but I admired his effort. This version featured another great guitar solo by Mr. Messier and I hoped for the dynamic ending that is included in Quidam and Midnight Sun. Unfortunately, it ended with the final vocal line like the studio version.

“Cold Flame” (Oscillum from Varekai) – The powerful Russian Swings song from Varekai, but with lyrics. Irina Akimova provided a very nice hoop manipulation that rivaled anything performed by our fave, Elena Lev. The hoops she used were colored in a rainbow sheen that reflected off the lights (like Mystère’s cube) and as she spun them they appeared to be a solid, shimmering ball. Nice effect.

“One Love” (Polkinöi from Saltimbanco) – I’m happy to say that this version was similar to my favorite song from the “Delirium” studio CD, but of course with new lyrics. The stage-covering projection screen featured some eerie images of animated people walking in and out of doors that were connected by a conduit-like line. A pulse throbbed throughout the circuitry.

“Lifeline” (El Péndulo from Varekai) – El Péndulo has one of my favorite melody lines of all Cirque songs and I always thought it could be easily transposed into a hit number with real lyrics. My feeling became reality with this version that stayed fairly true to its original form. A four man Banquine act that seemed perfect for any Cirque production accompanied the song.

“Time Flies” (Mer Noire from “O”) – In my opinion, possibly the best song of the night. Four of the singers huddled together on a platform singing magnificent harmonies. The decelerated bridge that featured a solo female lead also included a backing electronic sequencer that floated nicely around the melody line. Then Andrée-Anne Tremblay kicked in with an aggressive violin solo that brought the song back to the main theme.

“Kumba” (Kumbalawé from Saltimbanco) – “Kumba” is my least favorite re-mixed song from the dance CDs, but I loved the echoing voices included in the live version. From the energy exposed by nearly all the cast, I knew, that the night would soon be closing…

“Nova Alegrìa” (Alegrìa from Alegrìa) – The End. “A joyous, magical feeling” brought to life in an abbreviated version of Cirque du Soleil’s most famous song. Even though I cried at the end of Alegrìa while Francesca sang this in her beautiful, operatic, raspy voice; I stood and danced with my daughter and my friend in celebration of yet another enchanted Cirque du Soleil experience.

There was no encore.

I was happy to see Karl Baumann – as Balloon Boy Bill – backing a Cirque du Soleil production. I feel that his original Target/Fritz character in Quidam has never been unseated. My only minor disappointment was the venue itself. Nationwide Arena is perfect for the Blue Jackets hockey team, but I missed the intimacy of the Grand Chapiteau. Too bad the whole audience could not have fit under the volcano dress.

Hats off to Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, the creators and directors of Delirium. Like all the Cirque du Soleil creators before them, they are simply gamblers (something I can certainly relate to) going against what is the norm or popular or expected. I was amazed at how many people showed up for this show and even though at first most seemed clueless, not too many left before the end…and a rousing, standing ovation came from all. The souvenir program’s credit page includes this summation of our beloved Cirque du Soleil with an excerpt from “Lifeline:” “Everyday is lifetime, we all walk a fine line between the earth and sky, take a stand at the frontline, keep reaching for the sky.”