STAGE: Bringing Theater Magic to Life

Cirque’s KÀ a stunning mixture of human form and mechanical genius

Martin Stein

We watch as a ship carrying a princess and her nursemaid and entourage is tossed on a storm-whipped sea, bucking its passengers off one by one.

We see the nursemaid sinking to the ocean bottom, leaving a long stream of bubbles in her wake. The small warrior-princess swims down to retrieve her and carry her to the surface.

We view a cadre of warriors pursue the princess and her small entourage up a slope. As the hill becomes a cliff, arrows fly and embed themselves in stone, becoming hand- and footholds, allowing both hunters and hunted to clamber, swing and fall 70 feet.

It's all in one room, all on one stage, in Kà, Cirque du Soleil's latest show at the MGM Grand. Helmed by actor-writer-director Robert Lepage, a winner of Canada's prestigious Governor General's Award, Kà is Cirque's largest production to date, with a cost of $30 million (not counting the $135 million, specially constructed theater), more than 1,000 props, 75 performers and a 158-strong army of technicians.

With two massive surfaces capable of spinning, sinking and rearing up nearly on end, Kà is the definition of fantastic. Barges become beaches, forests become factories, and glaciers become battlegrounds as the first Cirque to adopt a story line also makes use of cinematic devices to direct the audience's attention and provide previously impossible views.

It's a light plot, but certainly the equal of any opera. The story concerns a royal brother and sister separated by an enemy's sneak attack, led by the Chief Archer and orchestrated by the yellow-clad Counselor and his Marilyn Manson-like son who has created an explosive-manufacturing device. Eventually captured, the Archer's daughter frees the prince and the final battle begins.

Some shows like Mystère and Zumanity primarily rely on the physicality of the performers. Others, like O, depend upon the technology of stagecraft. Though the platforms are certainly worthy of high billing, Kà is a seamless blend of form and physics. The success of this marriage is brought home during the production's most intimate scene in which the young prince and his fighting instructor seek respite during their flight by casting shadow puppets against a wall. With nothing more than their fingers and hands, the two elicit gasps of astonishment from the audience, creating true magic.

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