'O' dazzles with air, underwater acrobatics

Senior editor Laura Del Rosso checked out Cirque du Soleil's "O" production on a recent visit to Las Vegas. Her report follows:

ou've got to see 'O' while you're in Vegas. It's incredible, people said. I asked why it's so incredible. After all, I've seen other Cirque du Soleil shows and liked them, but this one is nearly $100 a seat and there is so much other entertainment in Las Vegas that's a lot less expensive.

Just go. You'll see, they said.

I went and I saw. And it is incredible, sort of otherworldly.

But then another problem arises: Other people ask why they should see it and now you have to try to explain.

Cirque du Soleil's description of the show doesn't really help: "An Aquatic Celebration of Life, Love and Death."

That really doesn't capture the show's essence, so you just tell them, "Go. You'll see."

However, for those who love Cirque du Soleil's shows, not much explanation of what "O" is about is needed.

Just knowing that it was created by the same company that did "Quidam," "Saltimbanco," "Dralian," all of which have toured North America, and "La Nouba," now playing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, is enough.

The company, headquartered in Montreal, attracted more than 7 million spectators worldwide to its various venues in 2001.

In Las Vegas, where Cirque du Soleil started with "Mystere" at Treasure Island in 1993 and expanded with "O" at Bellagio in 1998, the firm's popularity is booming. It suggests making reservations weeks -- even months -- in advance for the shows.

Battery-powered horses glide over the water in Cirque du Soliel's In addition, two more Cirque venues for Las Vegas are planned in the coming two years. But "O" stands alone -- and will continue to do so among Cirque du Soleil's shows -- for one element: water.

The "set" is actually a large pool that holds more than 1.5 million gallons of water (once a year, the water is drained from the pool and flows into the lake at the front of Bellagio, causing its water level to rise about an inch).

The pool, illuminated by 108 incandescent, underwater lights, contains seven hydraulic lifts that quickly change the surface of the water -- performers will walk on water one minute and then suddenly be swimming underwater as the lifts are lowered and raised during the show.

According to Cirque du Soleil, the lighting installation for the Bellagio Theatre required 223,000 feet of cable, which, put end-to-end, would stretch 42 miles.

All very impressive, but what actually goes on during the show?

Some have described the production as Fellini meets Esther Williams. Water is the star and the performers work their magic in it -- swimming, diving and sailing through the air over it on trapezes and other aerial contraptions.

There is stunning choreography from a synchronized swimming team of 17 that was created by Debra Brown and Olympic gold medal winner Sylvia Frechette.

The show also features two aerialists who defy gravity as they sail through the air from trapezes high above the pool.

Acrobats perform on a floating raft an array of gymnastic maneuvers as high divers somersault and flip over each other into the pool around them.

A ring of fire appears on the water as various acrobats, divers and swimmers do their thing. There are contortionists, gymnasts using hoops and charming Russian clowns.

One of the most amazing acts is Trapeze Washington, in which artists work on a fixed-metal fixture that swings in a long pendulum motion and descends at the same time.

The props used during "O" also are stunning, including four "horses" that run on battery power and are ridden by the artists as they glide over the water.

There also are a houseboat and barge that sail in and out of the pool and haunting background music from a live band using a bizarre array of instruments: African harps, bagpipes, Chinese violins and old woodwinds.

As Cirque du Soleil says, the production is "beyond circus and beyond theater." That's as good an explanation as any.

Tickets for "O" are $110 and $90 plus tax and are available up to three months in advance. Two shows are performed Fridays through Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

For ticket information, call (888) 488-7111 or visit www.bellagiolasvegas.com or www.cirquedusoleil.com.

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