GOING to the circus was never like this -- the glitz, high-tech lighting and vibrant costumes that mark Le Cirque du Soleil's second time around in Washington, D.C.
The French-Canadian vaudeville circus that wowed the nation's capital in 1988 is back with a brand new offering, appropriately titled "Nouvelle Experience." The crazy-quilt theatrical show mesmerizes with flying trapeze artists, twisting contortionists and amazing acrobats, amid clouds of fog, jazz and rock music and "Wizard of Oz"-inspired characters.
Going to the circus was never like this.
The two-hour show takes place in a cozy, intimate, purple-and-yellow big top that seats 2,500 people. But even the cheap seats ($13 for adults) have a good view.
There's never a dull moment. The show is curious and touching, expertly choreographed and held together by oddball clowns. The "flounes," as they're called, spill on to the stage between acts dressed in festive Mardi Gras-inspired costumes (designed by children's book illustrator Dominique Lemieux) to sing, dance, play instruments and perform acrobatics. The queen of the flounes is France La Bonte, a roly-poly ringmaster whose swirl of carrot-colored hair sticks up like antlers. She's a sight to behold -- and one not easily forgotten.
The opening contortion act -- 10- to 14-year-old Quebecois girls trained by noted Chinese contortionist Feng Zhen Yang -- is jaw-dropping and freakish, even grotesque. The four girls bend, twist and curl in all shapes, sizes and directions, lying on their stomachs, arching their backs and pulling their legs so their feet rest on the floor next to their faces. If it weren't for the high-tech lighting and precise choreography as well as the fantastic music, the act could be a part of a two-bit traveling circus.
Other acts that are likely to be seen at a typical three-ring circus -- a flying trapeze team, an aerialist, a tightrope walker -- are more polished and mysterious under the awesome lighting of Luc Lafortune.
An act that's not likely to be found anywhere but with Cirque du Soleil is Wang Lifang and Huang Yajing's parasol juggling show. One lies on her back on a chair and twists and twirls a parasol with her feet. Not to give the show away, but wait until you see what they do with each other and a couple pieces of velvet carpet.
Soviet equilibrist Vassili Dementchoukov performs the balancing chair act. Dressed in a pastel three-piece suit and a hat, he carries a birthday cake with lit candles as he climbs and stacks chair upon chair more than 30 feet in the air. With amazing balance, Vassili performs a handstand at the top of the stack -- eight chairs into the air.
If the standing ovations, cheers and whoops are any indication, this show is a hit with the young and the old.
Le Cirque du Soleil has pitched its tent on the Mall in Washington, between Third and Fourth streets near the Air and Space Museum. The troupe performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, at 5 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, at 4:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday and at 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday. The last performance date is Nov. 7. Tickets: $13 to $35.50 adults, $6.50 to $23.50 children under 12. Call 481-6000.