IMG 8482You’re sitting in a lavish, beautiful theatre.  The show begins.  The curtain flies away, as if by magic.  A stage is revealed, much of which is actually a large pool.  All of a sudden, pairs of women’s legs poke out of the water, as a lively water ballet is performed by a team of synchronized swimmers.  In the quiet that follows their dance, the backdrop splits apart and you see that the stage extends back, seemingly forever.  High above the water, from out of a cloud, come four large carousel horses, each with a rider.  They circle through the air, coming closer, descending.  Once in the water, they circle once more and float away into the wings.

This is “O” by Cirque du Soleil!

IMG 8484Found only at The Bellagio Hotel in las Vegas, “O” is an aquatic spectacle created by Franco Dragone.  The show, which has been playing at Bellagio since it opened in 1998, features a cast of 85 acrobats, dancers, divers, and synchronized swimmers performing in, around and above a 1.5 million gallon pool.  There is a large mechanized rig above the stage for flying people and props in and out, and there are rubberized, perforated hydraulic platforms beneath the water which can rise and fall in different configurations, creating a variety of playing areas.  The music for the show is performed by a live band, located on both sides of the theatre in what would normally be thought of as the box seats.  The musicians are housed in glass booths, to protect their instruments from the moisture in the air.

“O” (the title comes from eau, the French word for water) doesn’t have a conventional plot.  We meet a young man, known as Philemon, who sees Aurora, aIMG 8483 beautiful young woman, in the prologue of the show.  He pursues her through the watery, magical world of “O”, which is populated by contortionists, high divers, trapeze artists, fire dancers and a guide known as Le Vieux - an old man who makes his own journey from darkness to light.  The acts that we see throughout the evening are amazing; showcasing the kind of gymnastic, acrobatic and athletic feats for which Cirque du Soleil has become famous.

IMG 8487As mentioned before, the show begins with the synchronized swimmers, who simply appear from underwater.  There are regulators in the pool, which allow performers to make unseen entrances from beneath the water’s surface.  The effect is at once startling and fascinating.  This is followed by a duo trapeze act and then an act called “Barge”, where lithe acrobats in colorful costumes perform on a floating raft.  They combine  gymnastic routines, adagio dance moves and the traditional circus act of “banquine” - essentially a teeter-totter which they can use to launch themselves off the raft, somersaulting and twisting in the air before landing in the water.  Next comes “Bateau”, in which a team of aerialists perform parallel bar and aerial cradle routines on a huge, swinging boat-shaped rig high above the water.

The fire acts, which come next, are some of my favorite moments in the show.  This segment of the show is more martial arts-based and involves a character called The Masked Bandit, who juggles fire batons and creates circles of fire directly on the stage.  One performer does a fire stunt so amazing, it would be a shame to give it away!

Next are the Russian Swings.  Divers and acrobats use three sets of russian swings - one at stage left, one stage right, and a third upstage center.  They use the momentum of the swings to fly across the stage, and finally dive into the pool.  This act is unbelievably athletic, with one particular performer soaring through the air, spasming his body, looking for all the world like a fish leaping out of the water.  This act gets huge audience reactions because of it’s sheer athleticism and also for it’s joyfulness!

IMG 8485An act called Cadre comes next - acrobats dressed in playful, zebra-like costumes leap back and forth through the air on a rig that resembles a jungle gym tilting forward and back...all in an artificial rainstorm!  Then come four astonishing high divers, diving from as high as 60 feet above the stage.  For this act, the pool is narrowed down to a small triangle, and the dives are breathtaking!

Next are the Washington Trapeze act, where an artist balances on a fixed trapeze while it rises, falls and swings in a pendulum arc, the Contortion act, where four young women balance and contort on small platforms resembling lily pads, and lastly, the Aerial Hoops, where the artists dangle from spinning hoops above the water.  

Woven throughout the acts, we meet other fanciful characters like Le Travesti - a male dancer wearing a distinctly female costume: A deeply cut corset and thigh-high boots.  He carries a fan and dances, while vocalizing loudly in a very primal fashion.  There are also The Comets - a group of bewigged, red robed “noblemen” who occasionally fly across the stage on wires and assist many of the main characters.  And finally, there are The Clowns -  two sad-sack guys who play with the audience and at one point, try to keep their floating home from springing leaks and sinking.  I’m not much for clowns, but I really found them to be endearing and amusing.

IMG 8486I’ve been lucky enough to see “O” three times.  The first time was in 2002, with my partner.  Usually, when we go to the theatre, we sometimes whisper little comments between ourselves.  During the first viewing of “O”, my partner remained silent the entire time.  I was concerned that he had hated the show.  I was dead wrong.  He was so completely mesmerized, that he simply had no words!  I remember being moved to tears when the carousel horses made their fantastical entrance.  I last saw the show in 2008, accompanied by my friend Daryl, who knew the stage manager, Joe.  Joe took us on an incredible backstage tour and invited us to the following night’s performance.  We had special seats in the lighting booth.  Several other guests were there, and they all sat in a curtained off box.  Being that I was a techie myself, however, I was invited to sit right next to Joe at the Stage Manager’s station, with a script and headset of my own.  I listened as he called the show and was able to follow the underwater action on special monitors.  

“O” has to be seen to be believed.  The imagery is poetic and dreamlike - Le Vieux; the old man, sails across the stage on an upturned umbrella.  A piano carrying Aurora, wheels onstage under it’s own power, then sinks beneath the water.  You are truly immersed in the watery world Cirque has created.  It’s one of the longest running shows on the Vegas Strip and yet it’s still a hard ticket to get!  My advice to you is to get your tickets as early as possible, as it still sells out two performances a night!  Still, no matter how you get there, by all means, see “O”!