Michael Jackson, The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil at The O2
Written and directed by Jamie King, this show advertises itself as “a once-in-a-lifetime electrifying production that combines Michael Jackson’s music and choreography with Cirque du Soleil creativity to give fans worldwide a unique view into the spirit, passion and heart of the artistic genius who forever transformed global pop culture”. I suppose that is a fitting description, as the show was simply a homage to Jackson, at points more concerned with worshiping him than creative an effective show.
A large oval stage extended the standard stage for this performance allowing for a much larger performance space for this large cast. The show is made up of scenes, each with a variety of songs mashed together from the Jackson repertoire beginning with songs from Jackson 5 then moving on to his solo songs. The music is not always cut together well and almost no songs run straight through. This became annoying very quickly, the show became very bitty and broken in terms of structure.
The distinct lack of circus skills in the first half an hour of the show was ridiculous. There was lots of choreography, clever staging and props, yet even when we were given our first taste of circus (through the use of straps pulling up performers into the air), it was over within five seconds and happened only a few times in that segment. Apart from a few hand balancing tricks there really was nothing to latch on to as far as circus skills went. For a specifically circus related company, they really were being sparse with the disciplines.
The show then took a very confusing turn. A musician took to the stage with an electric cello and proceeded to perform a solo ending in a call and response themed ending, trying to get the audience to engage. This did not really happen, and I could see no reason for this act. Fair enough she was a decent player, but the act was over-done and the technique of playing was not what you would call fantastic. It seemed she was just there to show off, but this didn’t really sit well in the point of the show. It had no place really.
Despite the overall feeling that this was not really what we were expecting from the show, a few performers were absolutely stunning. The act entitled Dangerous (with a Jackson soundtrack of the same name) featured a pole dancer at the centre of the oval stage. She was truly magnificent, constantly moving and pausing in all manner of impressive positions. Her agility as an athlete and performer was a wonder to behold. She managed to keep the energy of the song tied in with her performance and was well rewarded with a roar of appreciation from the crowd.
After this dazzling show of skill something strange happened. There was a segment involving three performers on aerial hoops, hoisted into the air wearing costumes donned with ever changing lights, a wonderful spectacle. Well, it would have been if you could see the hoops. It is only through my past experience that I could work out that the aerial hoops were there, and even though the sight was pretty and impressive, they would have done better to make it clear that the hoops were the discipline.
Luckily, what came next made up for this short fall decision. A large book came up through the stage, and the central figure (a man all in sparkling white) opened it to reveal a performer. This contortion act, although short, was truly stunning. There was a huge range of hand balance tricks and the woman showed her flexibility by turning the pages of this giant book in all manner of bizarre ways. As a back-bender (contortionist that bends backwards and often rests on hands or torso) she wowed the crowd with a range of fast-changing mangled positions. She was wonderful to watch. Unfortunately, what came next was a massive come down was from this. A thriller themed segment saw cheesy bat costumes (along with the dance, obviously) and a load more dancing precede the interval.
After a short break, the performers dived into the audience to drag the crowd back to the show. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You was an apt name for the next circus act though, they were truly amazing. The double act encompassed straps into their routine balancing and hanging from each other, often by one hand or a foot. At one point, one performer bit down on a rope (while the other held the other end) and the straps were hoisted, resulting in the both gracefully dangling from the ceiling connected only by the rope clutched between one’s teeth. These two truly made the night worth it, it was an amazing display of skill.
The rest of the show mainly comprised of more dancing. Apart from the tumbling routine, which was very impressive, the show didn’t really produce any other memorable routines. This was when the show started to drag with number after number of simple ariel skills dotted around for good measure; possibly to reassure the audience this was still a circus company. The cello and guitar solo face-off was not really relevant, and the presence of space men with basketballs really proved no skill, just a time filler. The rest of the show was one big costume party.
All in all, this was a bizarre event. At points, the circus performers pulled out stunning performances, in particular the contortionist, pole dancer and aerial acrobatic duo. But the show was mostly just made up of big costumes and dance routines. Credit must be given to the costume designers who, I must say, outdid themselves in terms of quality, complexity and detail. The lighting design for the show was also outstanding, but all this seemed to cover up the fact that this show had no real sustenance. A few fleeting and extraordinary moments of performance were wedged between fleeting sections of music, constantly cutting between songs.
At the end of the day if you are a fan of Michael Jackson you will love this show. If you are a fan of Cirque du Soleil you are likely to be disappointed. This opinion was palpable at this event, with a mixed reaction from the crowd. Some were enthused and loving the energy, others seemed disappointed (in particular one individual who shouted what we were thinking, “show us some more acrobats”). Although this show does not advertise itself as a specific circus show, for a company with such a renowned reputation for quality there really was not enough circus in this.
As an avid fan of circus myself, including all of Cirque du Soleil’s previous shows, I would not recommend this to anyone who expects the ritual stream of quality routines with a running story line. This show is more for the Michael Jackson enthusiast, who then gets some clever tricks thrown in for good measure. The quality of some select performers mentioned earlier is worth a look, but the rest just had us sat wondering what they were trying to achieve here.
For more information about Cirque du Soleil, including their other touring production, please visit their official website.
This show is running until 21st October at the O2. To book tickets click here.