CDS Looks Toward a Beautiful Future with New Show ECHO

As the show’s author and director, Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar knows all about the long and winding road that’s been travelled to make it to the première of Cirque du Soleil’s Echo.

The world-renowned Montreal-based circus’s first original production since the pandemic began is set to officially open under the blue-and-gold Cirque big top in the Old Port on Thursday. The show was originally called Under the Same Sky and was meant to open in Montreal in March 2020. We all know what happened next.

The COVID pandemic hit and everything shut down, including all live entertainment. The original writer-director was British artist Es Devlin, but even before the pandemic nixed the production, there were behind-the-scenes creative issues. Mukhktar was called in from his Las Vegas home in the spring of 2020, just before the show was cancelled.

In a phone interview last week from his apartment just a short walk from the big top, Mukhtar went out of his way to say that Echo still includes many of the creative elements Devlin brought to the table.

“The universe, the signature style of the show, had already been started on when Es Devlin was on the show,” said Mukhtar. “I wanted to get a feel for what Es Devlin wanted to say to the audience, what was her inspiring message. Then I took that and I built from that. There were a lot of good things she did in the show and we just came in and added extra layers to it, to where it is today.”

Mukhtar knows the pressure is on the Cirque with this show. It’s all part of the post-pandemic comeback for the circus, which had to close all of its shows around the world during the health crisis and was forced to seek bankruptcy protection. But the Cirque was already struggling to remain relevant nearly 40 years after it was founded by Guy Laliberté, to find ways to connect with a 21st-century audience with so many more entertainment choices.

“The Cirque is always looking for ways to connect with the audience now,” said Mukhtar. “What is the audience like now? What are audiences looking for now? (The Cirque is) trying to see what’s happening in the world but also stay a few steps ahead of it. They’re trying to set trends like they did two decades ago. That’s also why they worked with Es Devlin at the beginning. Es Devlin is at the top of her game with what she does visually. They want to push those boundaries.”

Part of the visual design brought by Devlin is the giant two-storey cube that plays a central role in the show. Performers do their stuff on the surface of the cube and inside the cube, and it is also used for video projections.

Longtime fans need not worry, though. It’s not all newfangled concepts. There’s plenty of classic Cirque du Soleil entertainment, too.

“We definitely have high-level acrobatic performances in the show,” said Mukhtar. “We have to. It’s the Cirque’s DNA. You can’t have a Cirque show without having high-level acrobatics. But we had to approach the performances and the acrobatics and make sure they fit this universe that we’re creating. We didn’t want to bring in an act just because it was cool.”

No one goes to a Cirque show for the story, but there is always at least a semblance of a narrative and a central theme, and Echo is no exception.

“It’s more of a concept in this show,” said Mukhtar. “It’s really about coming together, rebuilding after the mistakes we’ve made, to eventually create the world we all want to live in. The world we live in right now is so fast, we all live at such a fast speed, and we roll with it. And we forget about the beautiful things that are right in front of us because of our commitment to our everyday life. And this show really looks at life from the point of view of youth. The main protagonist is Future and we see it through her eyes.”

Mukhtar is excited that his wife and their eight-year-old twin girls will be coming to town to see the show, and it means a lot to him that his daughters will be there.

“I can’t wait for them to see it, especially because the main protagonist is a young female,” he said. “It will be fun and inspirational for them to see that.”

{ SOURCE: Brendan Kelly; Montreal Gazette }