Giant flying kiwi fruit, an acrobat on a tightrope balancing on one hand on a unicycle, a huge four-foot-tall egg.
That’s just some of what I saw backstage at the Liacouras Center on Wednesday afternoon — but it’s just another day on the job for the cast and crew of Cirque du Soleil’s OVO.
The insect-themed extravaganza makes its Philadelphia premiere this week and returns to the region in June for a run at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. The show is everything you’d expect from the world-famous Cirque franchise: Fantastically colorful, gravity-defying fun in performances that seem effortless.
But a peek behind the scenes shows that it takes a lot of practice, and a lot of people, to bring this world to life.
OVO has a cast of 50, plus 50 crew members who tour with the production. Artistic Director Marjon Van Grunsven is responsible for not only the vision of the production, but also keeping the huge cast motivated and, in some cases, comforted.
“I’m not only their boss, but their mother,” she said.
Van Grunsven’s task is no easy one: The cast comes from 21 countries, and although Cirque encourages the team to learn English, not everyone does. During the Wednesday tech rehearsal, a group of floor acrobats juggled giant pieces of corn with a translator nearby to help with any language obstacles.
Ultimately, though, the show boils down to movement, and Van Grunsven’s former life as a dancer has helped break down any kind of communicative barriers that might exist due to language differences.
“I can explain with my body what I want to see,” she said.
It’s not just the performers that make the evening larger-than-life. The physical production is massive. This particular tour is a re-imagined variation on the franchise’s earlier version of OVO, and there’s new scenery — including a giant blow-up egg that takes over the entire stage — plus colorful costumes, shoes and props. More than 20 trucks are needed to carry all the equipment.
Some of it the audience will never see. Behind the stage is a full-sized gym for performers, a huge area to practice acts, and a fully-equipped costume and makeup shop, complete with more MAC products than a Macy’s counter.
On Wednesday afternoon, costumer Julie O’Brien was busy putting the finishing touches on a colorful headpiece.
Outside the costume shop, a group of performers was rehearsing a daunting act where female acrobats are literally tossed across the span of the arena. During the afternoon, they had safety harnesses on. Not so in the evening, where the hours of practice paid off in a jaw-dropping spectacle. The crowd at the Liacouras Center went wild.