While Cirque shows seem to have found homes in Canada and Vegas, Los Angeles has only ever been a stop-off point for any number of touring versions. But as of Sept. 25, L.A. is now the birthplace to one of its own: Cirque du Soleil’s IRIS.
A love letter to all things “film,” IRIS takes the audience on a journey through sight and sound, shadow and light, color and spectacle. It’s not a show with a definitive plot or narrative, but a sort of poem through the many aspects of cinema with a bunch of other craziness thrown in for good measure. It’s a visual spectacular to be sure, although how some of the acts fit into the theme can leave viewers scratching their heads. But that doesn’t mean it won’t wow you just the same.
On a set that reminds one of a bit of Coney Island-meets-Barnum & Bailey’s-meets a movie studio, IRIS opens with a singular musician playing a piano. He is the “Buster” of the show, a man who spots the woman of his dreams in “Scarlett,” a gal looking to make it big in movies. The two become separated by the razzle-dazzle of the industry and each get sucked into the frenzy of movie-making.
Here’s where IRIS becomes a bit of a stretch. The first number—glorious for sure—is an Aerial Straps Duo routine where twin men soar through the air suspended by ropes. They fly and pose, leap and embrace. It’s gorgeous to watch, even though I’m not sure what it had to do with filmmaking. Perhaps we can say they were making the leap into the unknown, which is what the first filmmakers were doing. Regardless, it’s a beautiful routine punctuated by a lovely score by composer Danny Elfman.
Just as filmmaking progressed, so do the acts in IRIS. Contortionists bend and pose to stunning effect in a sort of “shadow puppet” way that recalls what early storytelling must have been like. A Hand to Hand routine has two “porters” launching their partners through the air and balancing on their person in ways that genuinely produce “oohs” and “aahs.” The filmic projections of these acrobats also give it the feel of early cinema.
In one of the cleverest sequences, a live-action “film strip” enters the stage featuring seven individual frames. The performers that enter the frames do so in a way that suggests each frame is the same performer just in a different point in motion. This demands very precise choreography that is not only stunning, but giddily mind-boggling. This is followed by one of the most original and truly tense-filled acts; the Kiriki. Eight acrobats dressed in colorful insect costumes flip and spin each other while continually balancing on their backs and feet. This is the point in the show that you literally grasp your neighbor’s arm and silently pray that the performers succeed in every flip and somersault. The end result is overwhelmingly impressive.
After a brief intermission, we move into the more obvious cinema age where Scarlett is seeking stardom and the chaos of the movie set is exemplified. In the opening sequence of Act Two there is so much going on your eye is not sure where to focus. While it certainly gives the sensation of on-set frenzy, it’s almost impossible to follow. It’s the section of the show that begs repeating with at least five or six performances occurring at the same time. It’s dazzling to be sure, but exhausting just the same.
The rest of the lengthy second act consists of a beautiful trapeze artist that defies gravity, trampolinists who bounce around a city’s rooftops in an ode to action movies and a bit of the Keystone Cops, and a showcase of film noir that is punctuated by an amazing set that peeks into the windows of a variety of inhabitants of a Gotham apartment building.
By the end of the evening, the thrill of our heroine Scarlett performing a hand balancing routine is impressive, but a bit of a letdown as the final big act. The true ending of the evening is a wow moment; however, depending on your seat in the theatre, it might be difficult to see. (From my seat, I barely saw anything. And for this to be the final moments of the show, it ends up being kind of a disappointment.)
For sure, IRIS is sensory overload in the best of ways. Fantastic costumes, funny clown-like characters, impressive death-defying performances and downright jaw-dropping sets, it’s the definitive in entertainment. Visually you will want for nothing and the acts certainly have the wow factor. That said, is this the best Cirque show I’ve seen? No. Having recently seen Zumanity in Vegas, I will say that show had a better narrative and more consistently stunning performers. Every act floored the audience and they kept building in intensity. With IRIS, the acts vary with their ability to impress. Nothing is UN-impressive, but the intensity wasn’t consistent so the finale that should have had me wanting more, had me simply reverentially impressed at the whole affair.
With a 10-year residency and acts that will most likely be changing and evolving, perhaps the narrative of the show will become more streamlined, and the wow factor can keep building to a punch-in-the-gut finish.
Is it worth it? For sure. Is it the best? No. But if you’ve never seen a Cirque show before, this is a terrific place to start.
Tickets range from $43-$133 with VIP tickets for $253 and can be purchased via cirquedusoleil.com or call (877) 943-IRIS.