WHEN YOU'RE CIRQUE du Soleil, you've got a reputation to uphold — one for a level of sensory excitement unmatched on the global entertainment scene. That duty doesn't diminish when it comes to putting on a party, especially one celebrating the launch of the biggest show you've ever brought to the stage. Such was the case in February, when the Montreal-based icon of surrealistic circus spectacle created an all-night affair for the premiere of “Ka” at Las Vegas' MGM Grand. But for a stage production, Cirque typically has extensive rehearsal time, a customized performance space and a prodigious production budget. For the “Ka” premiere, on the other hand, it had limited resources, six months and a big empty room to fill.
The most pressing demand was disguising the sports-stadium appearance of the hotel's Grand Garden Arena — the event's cavernous venue. “We don't do sporting events. We don't do raves,” says Cirque event designer Elizabeth-Ann Doyle. “And it was such a VIP event that even in that big space, it had to feel comfortable.”
The event team shrunk the space with a series of 30-foot- high screens that completely circled the 40,000-square-foot area. The screens didn't just hide the arena's retractable bleachers, they also provided a canvas for vibrant video art.
To cover up the arena's scoreboard and technical grid, and to drop the venue's expansive ceiling, the Cirque crew first came up with a “cloud” concept. “The original plan was to have just a huge inflated structure that would hang overhead, like a humongous bag of balloons,” Doyle explains. “Because it was inflated, it would move a little in the air, and convey the idea of cloud.” But that scheme, soon deemed too complicated and expensive to execute, was replaced by the notion of a cloud-like structure built from metal mesh. However, that plan too was eventually scrapped: “It would have taken a whole day just to hang,” Doyle says.
Ultimately, the design crew created 100 simple U-shaped metal frames that could be rigged to the ceiling and draped with white fabric. Once hit with video and light, the framework “was amazing,” Doyle recalls.
The challenging process of settling on a feasible cloud design, which might seem frustrating to some, was par for Cirque's event-planning course, the designer notes. “We're a company of creation, so that's what we do. Trial and error is our everyday job. We have so many ideas. But a party is not a show. We don't have months of production time in studios to fabricate things and make them better. We often have to scale things down.”
TALENT, TALENT EVERYWHERE
Event night — and morning, too, since the party followed a “Ka” performance — brought food, interactive fun and, of course, a full range of entertainment spectacular enough to meet Cirque standards.
The space's centerpiece was a 40-foot-high castle structure built from scaffolding and featuring towers, pathways and platforms where acrobatic performers strutted their stuff.
Also on display were two “tribes” — a concept inspired by the epic of separated twins that forms “Ka's” storyline — that took turns wowing the 5,000-strong crowd throughout the night; the “fire” tribe performed pyrotechnic feats while the “water” tribe featured water-drop costumed aerialists.
And if that weren't enough, two bands and three DJs filled in the room's sonic space, getting guests into the groove while they indulged in treats from an array of food stations representing 12 MGM Grand restaurants.
Perhaps the most impressive of all performances, according to Doyle, was that of Las Vegas-based Drum Jungle, which combined drums, vocals and guitar loops in a primal percussion experience that was a favorite with party-goers; “They were appealing for everybody,” she says.
THE SCIENCE OF CIRQUE
Doyle, who calls the premiere party's scope unmatched in Cirque's history, stresses that events have value beyond basic marketing and PR for the cutting-edge performance company.
Of course, celebrations to show off new and touring shows give Cirque the chance to fête its troupe members and promote its talents to the press. In the case of the “Ka” event, for instance, the company invited more than 1,000 of its own troupe members — not only those from “Ka,” but also Las Vegas Cirque shows “Mystere,” “Zumanity” and “O.” Media members were allowed one hour to film and interview show stars on the event floor, “but after that, we asked them to put their cameras aside and just have fun — let the cast and crew enjoy themselves,” Doyle says.
Just as important, she notes, is the unique opportunity events provide as a “laboratory” for fresh ideas and new talent. The process “can help us in exploring multimedia artists who are not exactly acrobats, but dancers, gymnasts and actors,” she says.
For the “Ka” event, she points out, Cirque experimented with performers from San Francisco's Mystic Family Circus, which staffs such unique talents as fire dancers, Tuvan throat singers and court jesters, to name a few. “A lot of people want to play with us,” Doyle says, “and this is a great way for us to check those people out.”
Cirque du Soleil Special Events 8400 2nd Ave., Montreal, QC H1Z 4M6, Canada; 514/722-2324; www.cirquedusoleil.com. Turn to page 57 for a list of resources for this event.
A GRAND AFFAIR
A sampling of dishes from 12 MGM Grand restaurants:
Lobster Corn Dogs with Whole Grain Mustard Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche with Lavosh Crackers Chocolate Banana Brûlée Pop
Almond Chicken with Lemon Sauce Tofu with Hot Sauce Passion Fruit Chocolate Cake
Mini Slider Hamburgers Panini Acosta Mini Peanut Butter Cups