If you’re heading to Las Vegas to see tassels, feathers and high-kicking showgirls, you’re fifty years too late. Things may have been like that when the Rat Pack ruled the roost, but these days, the city’s biggest stars are the postmodern Canadian performance troupe Cirque du Soleil, currently running an amazing seven shows.
That the Cirque and the Strip make such a heavenly pair is thanks to the sheer amount of money sloshing around Las Vegas. Selling nine thousand tickets per night, for $100 or more, gives Cirque a million dollars a day to splash out on dare-devil acrobats, flamboyantly inventive costumes and unbelievable special effects. Each show takes place in its own purpose-built theatre, and for anyone interested in the performing arts, the results demand to be seen. What they lack in terms of plot, or even dialogue – the absence of which certainly helps non-English-speaking visitors – they make up for in jaw-dropping spectacle.
Although their highest-profile show is Love, a glorious celebration of The Beatles at the Mirage, you’ll get a better sense of Cirque mastery at O, in the Bellagio. Its name is a pun on the French for “water”, and any part of the stage can suddenly be submerged; seconds after you watch someone walk across a particular spot, a high-diver may plunge fifty feet headfirst into it. A colossal pirate ship, crewed by fearless trapeze artists, swings high over the heads of the audience, and from the aisle beside your seat graceful footmen launch themselves into the air amid swirls of velvet drapery.
Kà, at the MGM Grand, is even more astonishing. A martial-arts extravaganza that also incorporates wonderful puppetry and sumptuous costumes, it’s the most expensive theatrical production ever staged, anywhere. The set is quite extraordinary; the stage floor can rise, swivel and pivot in every direction. One minute it’s a steep cliff-face, to which the performers cling for dear life; the next they simply fall, mid-battle, into the abyss below.
With their flair for making every spectator feel like a participant, and a constant interplay between actors and audience involving planted stooges as well as genuine volunteers, Cirque offers an engrossing experience that’s both exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.
See www.cirquedusoleil.com. Cirque’s other shows are Mystère at TI, Zumanity at New York-New York, Viva Elvis at the Aria, and Criss Angel’s Believe at Luxor. All typically play five nights per week; ticket prices $70–165.