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updated: 7/8/2011 7:35 AM

Cirque explores the unseen in enchanting 'Ovo'

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  • A contortionist channels a spider in Cirque du Soleil's enchanting "Ovo."

      A contortionist channels a spider in Cirque du Soleil's enchanting "Ovo."

  • A newcomer (Barthelemy Glumineau, right) romances the Lady Bug (Michelle Matlock) in "Ovo," the Cirque du Soleil show playing under the Grand Chapiteau in the United Center parking lot.

      A newcomer (Barthelemy Glumineau, right) romances the Lady Bug (Michelle Matlock) in "Ovo," the Cirque du Soleil show playing under the Grand Chapiteau in the United Center parking lot.

  • Scarabs soar in "Ovo," the 2009 Cirque du Soleil spectacular playing through Aug. 21 at Chicago's United Center parking lot.

      Scarabs soar in "Ovo," the 2009 Cirque du Soleil spectacular playing through Aug. 21 at Chicago's United Center parking lot.

  • Crickets scale a rock wall during the finale of Cirque du Soleil's "Ovo."

      Crickets scale a rock wall during the finale of Cirque du Soleil's "Ovo."

 
 

With the endlessly charming, entirely accessible "Ovo," Cirque du Soleil delivers an entomological extravaganza that will win over even the most insect averse audience members.

"Ovo" reveals a vast, diverse and largely unseen community brought brilliantly to life by an impressive ensemble of circus artists.

But what makes this inventive, joyful show from director/choreographer/writer Deborah Colker particularly fascinating is its attention to detail. It's as if Colker hired an entomologist to coach the performers on the finer points of insect mannerisms. The result is a show where character matters almost as much as athletic prowess and artistry. That, combined with the palpable sense of community that Colker and her cast have established, is what makes "Ovo" especially satisfying.

Spectacle, not narrative, has always been Cirque's strength and on that point "Ovo" certainly delivers. Unlike more enigmatic shows that have played the city and suburbs in recent years, "Ovo" (Portuguese for "egg" and suggestive of the life force that animates Cirque's colony) places greater emphasis on story, although the tale is rather slight.

It concerns the budding romance between an amorous little bugger (Barthelemy Glumineau) and a sassy Lady Bug (Michelle Matlock). Of course their courtship serves as a footnote to the acrobatic exploits supplied by the other residents of this insect sanctuary -- a pleasant garden comprised of dandelions, dirt and enormous flowers -- conjured by set and props designer Gringo Cardia.

A cast of 54 supplies Cirque's trademark thrills. Scarabs soar through the air in a gasp-inducing trapeze act. A butterfly emerging from her silk cocoon serves as a seamless introduction to a gorgeous, seductive aerial pas-de-deux between butterflies Svitlana Kashevarova and Dmytro Orel.

On the ground, perky red ants juggle with their feet the kiwi and corn they've liberated from someone's picnic. Volodymyr Hrynchenko's dragonfly seemingly defies gravity while Lee Brearley's earthworm-like "Creatura" wiggles with gleeful abandon. Later, a trio of alluring arachnids (contortionists Svetlana Belova, Robyn Houpt and Nadine Louis) ensnare unwitting grasshoppers while their spiderman counterpart (Li Wei) dazzles on the slack wire.

And it all culminates in a captivating, deftly synchronized, tour-de-force finale that finds a group of high-spirited grasshoppers (plus a couple of sexy spiders) scaling a rock wall aided by trampolines.

Liz Vandal outfits the performers in brightly colored, imaginatively designed costumes that incorporate everything from extra appendages to gossamer wings.

The show unfolds to Berna Ceppas' appealing, samba-inspired score (one of the loveliest I've heard), which layers classical and folk music -- listen for the cheeky pairing of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with "La Cucaracha" -- in a wonderfully whimsical effect.

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