Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana: A Sneak Peek

By , Columnist

Photo: OSA Images / Costumes: Alan Hranitelj ©2011 Cirque du Soleil

Since its street beginnings in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has grown into an institution not only immensely popular but almost freakishly beloved. While its many successes may have given the troupe an aura of invincibility, their new show, Zarkana, represents a leap of faith for the Canadian circus juggernaut, and as your real estate agent might say, it's all about location, location, location.

That's because the new site we are talking about is storied Radio City Music Hall. The landmarked 6,000-seat theater, glitzy home of the Rockettes and a major tourist destination since it opened in 1932, is a fresh and apparently somewhat nerve-wracking venue for Cirque, whose President and CEO, Daniel Lamarre, talked about "the magnitude of the challenge" at a sneak preview for journalists. "In New York," he remarked, "people in general are experts on live shows...[and] we have to be respectful of... the most iconic theater not only in North America but worldwide." To that end, 75 artists from 15 countries, along with 88 crew members, are hard at work polishing Zarkana for its June 29 opening.

Radio City is so big that the company's studios in Montreal weren't big enough to accommodate rehearsal; Cirque needed to rent an arena. Zarkana, Lamarre said, is "Cirque du Soleil on steroids," created specifically for Radio City Music Hall (though it will go on to Madrid and Moscow after its New York run). Written and directed by film and theater director François Girard (The Red Violin), it's an "acrobatic rock opera" that makes full use of the big theater's brawny sound system, and that's not the only thing shouting We hit the big time.

As trapeze artists do their daring thing, other wiry performers climb up and down an elaborate web of ropes (suggesting the troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark musical nearby). Elements of the macabre mix with traditional circus fare like the famous "Banquine" acrobatics. A sand painting feature is a more intimate spectacle literally writ large. Altogether the show promises a cavalcade of impressive visuals.

Will Zarkana be Cirque du Soleil's biggest triumph yet? Or will it fall on its face, like trapeze artists at a rough sneak peek?  Find out next month; previews begin June 9, and the show will run in New York through October 8.

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Jon Sobel is a freelance writer, web editor, theater and music critic, marketing writer, and musician. His newest project is the blog Park Odyssey, where he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City - over a thousand of them.

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