Hours before coy, fantastically costumed characters greet guests at the doors of Light at Mandalay Bay, Cirque du Soleil performers are already busy preparing for the night’s show, stretching, climbing silks and flipping inside cantilevered hoops that dangle behind the plexiglass wall above the DJ booth.
Artistic director Hassan El Hajjami scans the scene from the floor below, calling out instructions in rapid-fire French as they put the finishing touches on the evening’s choreography.
“For me right now, it’s a success. Everybody is talking about the club. Ibiza is talking about the club,” says the Cirque veteran and international dance champion, also known by the stage name Haspop.
In the months since it opened Memorial Day Weekend, Light, the latest addition to the pantheon of Strip nightclubs, has created some serious buzz for its partnership with Cirque du Soleil and residencies from dance music’s freshest stars, including Skrillex, Krewella and A-Trak.
Light goes beyond the dancers and aerialists that have been a staple of the Vegas club scene since the days of Studio 54 by incorporating the narrative storytelling elements of Cirque shows into the spectacle of its DJ sets, an idea Hajjami brought to the table when he was enlisted to head up the show creation process for the club late last year.
Much like Cirque productions use fantastical narratives to present their acts and move the show forward, Hajjami and his team developed storylines for 15 or so themed tableaus that blend live performance and high-tech visuals from production company Moment Factory to enhance the resident DJs’ sets.
“My idea was to take a storyline and put it in the club. When I have an artist up there, they’re not just doing an act. They each have a story, they have a costume, they have makeup,” Hajjami says.
The tableaus center on loose aesthetic themes like “Vampire,” which features dark colors, animal-like costumes and choreography mimicking a vampire-werewolf battle. “Orgy” employs writhing harness acrobatics, and “Underwater” has cool colors and soft movements.
In the days before a headliner’s scheduled set at Light, Hajjami and his team will tailor a set of tableaus according to a selection of songs and style preferences provided by the DJ, tweaking lighting and movements to match signature beats and rhythms.
The narratives may not be explicitly obvious to the average patron on the dancefloor, but Hajjami says their purpose is ultimately to enhance the sense of immersion and otherworldly escape that the club strives for.
“I want the experience to start right away at the door,” Hajjami says. “My job is to take the energy to a high level and keep it there throughout the club.”
Light Nightclub Mandalay Bay, 588-5656. Friday & Saturday, 10 p.m. Open other days for special events.