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Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal (Image: Supplied, design Tina Tiller)
Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal (Image: Supplied, design Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureJuly 5, 2023

Review: Cirque du Soleil skates into Auckland with icy new show Crystal

Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal (Image: Supplied, design Tina Tiller)
Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal (Image: Supplied, design Tina Tiller)

The first Cirque du Soleil show performed entirely on ice skates is in town. Here’s what we made of the show’s opening night.

Light on stunts, high on theatrics

Blades of Glory. That’s all I could think about for the two-hour duration of Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal. There were so many legs. Legs attached to feet. Feet wearing ice skates. Sometimes people wearing ice skates stood on other people, surely only manageable through some sort of circus magic.

I eventually made peace with the very real potential that I might witness a lethal neck slice on the ice, but in a weird turn found myself more invested in the less terrifying aspects of the show. A solo clown, who was throwing snowballs at children in the audience before the lights had even dimmed, made me (and all the kids) laugh. A juggler who rightfully looked very smug about his abilities somehow impressed me more than skaters doing backflips. 

I think I was ultimately won over by the theatrics of Crystal. None of the individual stunts particularly wowed me – living in an age where everyone has seen everything on the internet makes it trickier to be left in awe by what are still undoubtedly “death-defying” acts. I’ve seen Pink spiral around Spark Arena while singing live, so seeing acrobats fling themselves around on ice skates felt only slightly more impressive. But if you look at Crystal more like a theatre show that just happens to have stunts as well, then it becomes more enjoyable. / Stewart Sowman-Lund

Loved the clown, hated the Muzak covers

I attended the opening of Cirque Crystal in Christchurch, and aside from being among such stunning Southern VIP guests as Ruud the Bug Man and the hosts of What Now, I was left most impressed by the fuddy-duddy clown. Starting the show before the show had even started with an arena-wide snowball fight, and later providing one of the most beautiful images in a slow dance with a soon-to-be-headless lamp woman, his solo slapstick physicality captured the entire room just as effectively as the storey-high chair balancing and businessmen climbing ropes. 

What I cared slightly less for was the weird romantic deviation in the second half (how old is this protagonist? Why does she suddenly need to find love with a glittery 40-year-old bald man on a trapeze?). Also, was I the only person who started laughing when a bizarre rendition of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’* came out of nowhere after what had previously been an entirely lyric-less experience (followed later by Beyonce’s ‘Halo’)? For a show about imagination and creativity, I could have done without the dodgy slowed-down Love Island UK cover songs. / Alex Casey

(* The opening night in Auckland definitely did not have a cover of Chandelier, and appears to have been missing this whole section. It’s not known whether this change was a one-off.)

(Image: Supplied)

A nine-year-old circus fanatic has some thoughts

“I’m so jittery,” declared my daughter on the way to the circus. She’s nine years old and every Monday she spends an hour and a half training at circus school doing things on contraptions lifted so high off the ground that I often can’t watch her do them. When she gets home, she recovers by eating several pasta-based dinners while watching Cirque du Soleil videos on YouTube. It would be fair to say that in the history of Cirque du Soleil shows there is no better performance that could be tailored to my daughter’s obsession than the one we saw at Spark Arena last night.

Crystal’s story, as far as I can tell, involves a young girl running away from home to join an icy circus. She wants to do nothing more than perform. And so, for nearly two hours, that’s exactly what she and the rest of the Canadian crew behind this winter-themed, ice-based show do. They fly over ramps and spin through the air and jump across huge swinging poles like they’re extras in a Mad Max sequel. It’s a dizzying, dazzling, death-defying performance that makes ice skating look easy when it assuredly is not.

Yes, there are weird things this dad did not understand: what’s with the office workers and their briefcases? Why do they all suddenly start playing ice hockey? What’s with the military snow camo vibe? (Is the answer to all of this: because they are Canadian?) But I got as much joy watching my daughter’s reaction to Crystal as I did watching Crystal itself. As we were walking to our car afterwards, she got fidgety again. She hopped, and danced, and said: “The only thing wrong with the show is that it makes me want to do circus tricks right now.” Sadly, it was well past her bedtime, but I kept a tight grip on her hand in case she tried to run away to join the circus too. / Chris Schulz

Would’ve loved more jumps

The true star of Crystal was the small child who, when the clown’s cart fell over, laughed so loud and joyously they made the whole arena crack up. That energy and embrace of the silly is exactly what Cirque du Soleil does best. There was a lot more acting than I expected from a company famous for its acrobatics. The clown was a real highlight and perfect use of narrative in a way that didn’t require three flips or a tall ramp. The children loved him and so did my partner who, I am beginning to realise, is a huge fan of physical comedy. 

(Image: Supplied)

Where the acting felt like a detriment was in the general plotting and booming voiceover. I truly could not tell you what was going on in the story except that the main character (through VO) repeatedly used the term “somewhen else” to refer to a hypothetical future and it made me laugh a lot. Obviously, audiences don’t flock to Cirque du Soleil shows for the dialogue, which means Crystal would have been just as enjoyable (for me at least) without any dialogue whatsoever. I had hoped to see some lovely skating (check), some flips (check) and some handstands (check). I don’t think it needed pop music covers or earnest voiceover as well. At the end, after the story was wrapped up, all the performers came out onto the ice and basically just showed off what they could physically do as a curtain call. I would have happily watched an entire show of that. / Madeleine Chapman

Cirque du Soleil: Crystal runs at Auckland’s Spark Arena until Sunday night. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.

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