Living it Up: A La Nouba DVD Review (Part 2 of 2)

“Living it Up: A La Nouba DVD Review (Part 2 of 2)”
By: Ricky Russo – Orlando, Florida (USA)

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Title: La Nouba DVD
ISBN: 1-4049-6954-3
UPC: 0-43396-09054-5
Video: 1:78:1 Wide screen
Audio: English 5.1 / 2.0 (Defaults to Dolby Stereo 2.0)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese
Run Time: Approx 90 Minutes

When I sat down to review the La Nouba DVD, I did so with a bit of apprehension. Of all the Cirque du Soleil shows I’ve seen live (and I’ve seen them all except KÀ), La Nouba is the one I’ve seen the most. At last count I’ve seen La Nouba live 10 times; it was also my first live Cirque du Soleil experience. I fondly remember my first viewing in the spring of 1999. Thus La Nouba is the show I am most familiar with — its acts, its theme and its music — thanks to the looming presence of its permanent Grand Chapiteau. So when it came time to watch the DVD of the production and review it for our faithful readers I wasn’t very excited. I didn’t know then how wrong I would be.

Disc Two — The Special Features (continued)

It’s 30 minutes before showtime and people are being let into the lobby of the Cirque du Soleil theater, Doug White (bicycles) is checking out his gear, Krystian Sawicki (“Le Titan”) is receiving a massage to his hamstrings in an unusual way — someone is standing on his legs, Isabeau Proulx Lemire (singer) is practicing in the theater’s stairwell, and the Les Cons are finishing up their makeup. It’s almost showtime… what’s going on behind the scenes?

In the previous installment I spoke about the filming of the production itself (on disc 1), as well as some of the smaller special features available on disc 2: a “Les Cons” featurette, the “La Nouba Photo Gallery,” and a section featuring Cirque du Soleil previews and promos for various current and upcoming products. Now, I wish to turn my attention to what I consider the “meat” of the special features: the “Meet the Musicians” and “In-Depth Interviews” selections.

In “Meet the Musicians” we are introduced to Isbeau (the singer), Benoit Glazer (Conductor, Trumpet Player, Keyboards), Cliff Schwartz, Benoit Lajeunesse (Violin, Mandolin) and Benoit Jutras (Composer). To be honest, I was hoping for another “Meet the Artists” section like Alegría and Varekai. I liked that everyone got his or her moment. When I first saw this was just going to focus on the musicians rather than the entire cast I was disappointed. But after watching this featurette, I felt I knew a lot more about the musicians and their on-stage lives.

For example, did you know that Benoit Jutras was still writing and re-writing the score to La Nouba two weeks before its premiere? “I am a bit of a control freak,” Jutras admits, writing all the arrangements himself. Or that one of the musicians was caught by Guy Laliberte resting during the show when he was not called upon to play? The interviews were intriguing, open, honest and fun. Its focus allows the subjects to breathe and tell me more.

In the In-Depth Interviews section you dive behind-the-scenes with select La Nouba characters, cast and crew reliving some of their most cherished moments of the Production.

We first meet Elena Day, who plays the Green Bird. “My character is a watcher,” she says. “She watches the action of others, wishing she could be part of it.” Throughout most of the production the Green Bird is an observer, hoping to become one of the “amazing, beautiful, flying beings” that she sees around her. Unfortunately for her, she’s a flightless bird who may or may not understand her own special qualities. “I think what’s so special about her,” Elena says, “is that she’s just beautiful in her own way.” Elena enlightens us on how she found the character’s motivation and how she’s able to showcase that persona twice a night, five times a week. Fans might be interested to know how she came up with the “death scene” that is now a famed part of the Balancing on Chairs performance — “I had just bought my car that day,” she says, “and I was real angry about the process… I just took [the moment] over the top, and just started screaming and freaking out. The audience loved it [so] we kept it!” Sadly, Elena Day is no longer with La Nouba, but she will always be part of that which we all sometimes strive: to be more than what we are. — “I think she’s hysterical when she gets really angry.”

Next we hear from Power Track artist Chrissy Van Fleet who spent 13 years in gymnastics to prepare her for this position; she speaks about doing the same thing each and every day. “Sometimes it’s easy to lose focus… but the way that we try and keep that motivation is to remember the experience I had first [watching] the show and to give that back to the audience.” She speaks of that first viewing completely wowing her. Recall when I asked about fans Cirque Rituals? Chrissy speaks of some her fellow mates adhere to just prior to going onstage: “there are small things that we do, little handshakes, hi-fives, [and] claps. [There is] a little special thing probably with everybody as we’re going into the building… before we start our act.” And has she fallen victim to any embarrassing moments? “I walked right off the stage one time,” she says, speaking about her role as an urbanite during the production’s opening number. How do you recover from such a blunder? “You blush, get up and walk back,” she exclaimed. What about her mates? Oh yeah… “[Our] biggest tumbler doing a triple [flip] actually went flying into the audience, and his catchers, who went to hold him back… they went into the audience too!”

“You name it [and I’ll] ride [my bike] over it,” says Doug White, Extreme Mountain Bike Rider. He’s ridden over dump trucks, barns, all kinds of small buildings, busses and “all kinds of cool stuff,” or so he declares. Doug likes to have fun with his performance and tends to look around at the audience, he admits, though no one has attempted to grab him while in the audience. He’s very serious when it comes to the Bicycle Jump, however. “Pavel is my hero,” he says of the Les Con who lies down with the unknowing spectator during the Bicycle Jump. “He lays there and doesn’t flinch 10 times a week.” To Doug, this is the most serious and most important part of his performance, and thankfully there hasn’t yet been an accident during the jump. “It’s in my contract that I’m not allowed to hit Pavel,” he says candidly. “So far I’ve kept my job!” There have been touchy situations, however. One time Doug peeked over the lifts as the stagehands waved up at him not to jump down, as he always does to end his act. The lift, which would normally be about 7 feet down, was down 11 feet. What did daredevil Doug White do? He jumped in anyway… “The show must go on!”

“The danger is always there,” says Andrei Roublev, flyer in the Flying Trapeze number. He speaks about his experiences with La Nouba, including an accident that almost put him out of the show permanently: he dismounted with another flyer but landed atop him, knocking him out for 1 minute and was out of action for two weeks! He was also asked what went through his mind as he performed. His response? “It’s hard to describe… but the [feeling] of flying is the most important for me.”

Carlos Marcio Moreira, from Brazil, fills the uncanny shoes of The Walker — the man in the green bowler hat with a unique strut. He’s the next member of the La Nouba cast we hear from and he shares with us some candid insights into his character. “He comes from nowhere. He feels so much what he sees in front of him. He has sensitivity; enjoys so much. [He’s] surprised by what he sees. [He’s] happy.” And just like his alter ego, Carlos needs the response from the audience to perform in top form; he loves to see the smiles of the audience. And how does he get his audience to smile? By his walk of course… inspired by none other than the king of the silent era, Charlie Chapman.

The man behind Pierrot Rouge, the character in red, is Wellington Lima. Also from Brazil, Wellington became an acrobat at the age of 11, doing martial arts and dreaming of going to the World Championships of Trampoline someday. His inspiration came from another artist in Brazil, strangely enough, who was jumping onto buildings. Instead of jumping onto buildings, Wellington somersaulted into coconut trees! The PowerTrack/Trampoline number is where Wellington gets to shine, bringing a burst of energy unmatched anywhere. During his interview he speaks candidly about the creation of the number, which he performs with Krystian Sawicky’s “Le Titan” character. He says the idea of the wall was to have a fight between him and Le Titan, a kind of duel between two powerful foes. Which would be better? During the first part of the act we see this duel, a sort of competition between them; but as the number continues, the two come to a mutual understanding and even salute one another. And what they do together seems to defy logic. Those who have seen La Nouba know that the performers tumble into the building’s windows… has Wellington ever missed one? “In the five years,” he says, “four our five times!” then smiles. I guess it’s all part of the show.

“Laughter is all that motivates us,” says Michel Deschamps (Balthazar the Clown), our final La Nouba cast member. “It’s a direct link with the public.” Deschamps, who speaks only French, had this to say about his character: “Balto is a naive clown. He can get angry too depending on the situation, but it’s always a childish anger. He’s like an 8-year old kid. My partner Sergei is maybe 5-years old [and they’re] roaming through the show together and experiencing all sorts of things.” He is asked whether being paired with Sergui (who is from Russia and also deaf) cultivated any problems? His response, “At first our interactions were minimal. We put on our costumes, went to a studio and dreamed up situations. We just improvised and improvised. Soon, after rehearsing maybe a week, we could see it working out. We were going to be a team.” And a team they are, performing twice a night, five nights a week. “Clowning might be hard work,” Michel says, “but to me it’s pure relaxation.”

In conclusion, the La Nouba DVD is far from perfect. Cirque is still missing the boat on many of its special features — How about a commentary track with the creators? How about more of a behind-the-scenes documentary on how La Nouba was created? How about including “Inside La Nouba” as a special feature? Alas, even if the disc was missing the fabulous “Meet the Artists” section, what we do have with the “Les Cons”, “Meet the Musicians” and “In-depth Interviews” with select artists I found the two-disc set to be a great addition to my Cirque du Soleil DVD collection and would recommend every fan add it to theirs!