Theatre of the Imagination: Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana Opens at Radio City

By Kenneth Jones
June 29, 2011

Zarkana, Cirque du Soleil's new $50 million acrobatic spectacle built especially for Radio City Music Hall and featuring music by Elton John protégé Nick Littlemore, opens June 29 in a world-premiere engagement at the historic venue in New York City.



Previews began June 9 at Radio City Music Hall at 50th Street and Sixth Avenue. Performances play to Oct. 8.

Radio City has been the home of the Tony Awards ceremony in recent years, but that was not the case in 2011, owing to the installation of Zarkana, which unleashes 75 performers in a massive world that suggests a surreal abandoned theatre of the imagination. There's a fantastical proscenium, rumpled curtains, a pockmarked upstage wall that reveals the cosmic outside world, digital video screens flooded with bizarre images — floating eyeballs anyone? How about an amphibious infant with six arms who sings, "Welcome to my funeral"? This is not Barnum and Bailey, but, then, the Canadian-based Cirque du Soleil never was.

The European-influenced proscenium circus-show is punctuated by a fierce lady juggler in fishnet stockings, a "sand painter" who creates images in a surface of sand (projected on a screen), three nervous-making aerial balance acts (one called "Wheel of Death," no less), a highwire team that rises from the stage, a "flag manipulation team," monochromatic-garbed clowns and ponderous, atmospheric pop songs (the band is live) sung by a bereft magician/impresario named Zark, in search of his absent lady love, Lia. The actress who plays Lia also embodies several mysterious and menacing other women — including a spider-woman who dangles threateningly in mid-air — throughout the two-act Zarkana. (There's even a nod to Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark and Mary Poppins in a bit that involves a clown who flies over the audience.)

A scene from Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

The new Cirque show takes us to "a fantastically bizarre world where we follow the adventures of Zark, a magician who has lost his love and, with her, his powers," according to production notes. "As he cries and begs for her return he is plunged into a world inhabited by surreal creatures. The diverse cast of international artists transports the audience into a fantastical and suspenseful world, blurring the boundaries between the real and imaginary."

The name Zarkana is a fusion of the words "bizarre" and "arcana" (arcana means "mystery" or "secret"). The twisted fictional world of Zarkana "is an elusive destination that is fantastic yet bizarre." The name refers to "the irresistibly odd and delightfully strange aura of this place and its inhabitants."

Presented by iShares, Zarkana is written and directed by acclaimed film and theatre director François Girard ("The Red Violin," "Silk").

The creative team, consisting of 12 creators under the artistic guidance of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, includes Line Tremblay (director of creation), Stéphane Roy (set and props designer), Alan Hranitelj (costume designer), Nick Littlemore (composer and musical director), Debra Brown (choreographer), Elena Kolyadenko (choreographer), Alain Lortie (lighting designer), Raymond St-Jean (image content director), Steven Dubuc (sound designer), Florence Pot (acrobatic performance designer), Danny Zen (rigging and acrobatic equipment designer) and Eleni Uranis (makeup designer).

Composer Littlemore is an Australian musician and producer, known as frontman of acclaimed electronic act Pnau (with Peter Mayes) and one part of electro pop-duo Empire of the Sun (with Luke Steele). He is also a member of art-rock band Teenager (with Pip Brown a.k.a Ladyhawke).

As a producer, he has worked with Sir Elton John, Groove Armada, Ellie Goulding, Robbie Williams, Flora Purim and many others. This new production is his first collaboration with Cirque du Soleil. According to Cirque, "Sir Elton John will be guiding his protégé Nick Littlemore through the creative process of this new production."

Tickets range from $47 to $130 with a limited number of premium tickets available for all performances. Cirque Club membership is free, and benefits include access to advance tickets, special offers and exclusive behind the scenes information. To join, go to www.cirqueclub.com.

For tickets, call (866) 858-0008 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/zarkana.

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From a group of 20 street performers at its beginnings in 1984, Cirque du Soleil is now a major Quebec-based organization with 5,000 employees, including more than 1,200 performing artists from close to 50 different countries.

 

For more information about Cirque du Soleil, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.