Friday, July 16, 2004 | 9:13 a.m.
Five thousand performances.
Millions of gasps.
"Mystere," perhaps the best production show in Las Vegas, continues to amaze and delight fans from around the world with its blend of avant-garde circus routines and stylish entertainment at Treasure Island.
Its only challenger for the king of the entertainment mountain is "O" at Bellagio. Both are creations of Cirque du Soleil, which also produces "Zumanity" at New York-New York.
Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) was founded in Quebec in 1984 by, among others, Guy Laliberte, a musician, fire eater and street performer who was part of a group of street performers known as "Le Club des Talons Hauts" -- the High-Heels Club, so called because of the group's stilt walkers.
Cirque du Soleil's creative director is Gilles Ste-Croix, who was one of the stilt walkers.
Evidence of Laliberte's and Ste-Croix's background are evident throughout "Mystere."
Street performers (think Amazing Johnathan doing his brand of psycho-antisocial magic on the streets of San Francisco) tend to be extremist in their approach to entertainment -- they have to be to attract the attention of passersby.
And "Mystere" is extreme in almost every aspect of its production -- from the oversized baby character (played by Francois Dupuis) to the colorful costuming to the giant inflated snail that dominates the stage at the end of the show.
Mostly, "Mystere" is extremely entertaining, with something happening onstage and throughout the theater for most of the performance. Fans find themselves rotating their heads as if at a tennis match, looking from one side of the stage to the other, up in the air -- even on the walls.
Unlike "Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance," which uses a a dark theme of good-vs.-evil to justify its dancing, this production by Cirque du Soleil generally is not overcome by self-importance.
"Mystere" doesn't not take itself too seriously. Sure, in press material the creators say things such as the Chinese pole acrobats "are a symbol of organic life, which feeds on itself and grows."
And a hand-balancing act "signifies the interdependence of the first humans who build on their solidarity until a whole tribe emerges."
But in this brilliant production of costuming and choreography, each routine stands alone while at the same time being part of the whole.
We don't have to see some sort of cosmic connection between the Korean plank artists ("signifies organized human society") and the aerial high bar performers ("human dreams taking flight, borne by the hopes of a new millennium") to appreciate their incredible grace and agility.
It is enough simply to be carried away by humans defying gravity as they perform a tightly choreographed aerial ballet by a team of acrobats connected to the ceiling by bungee cords.
Or aerial artist Paul Bowler performing with a giant metal frame in the shape of a box.
Or brothers Marco and Paulo Lorador performing a hand-to-hand balancing act, demonstrating incredible physical strength and grace as they slowly, methodically enact a routine that is nothing short of astounding.
There is comic relief sprinkled throughout the show, keeping it grounded, preventing it from becoming too highfalutin.
Ultimately, "Mystere," and perhaps all Cirque du Soleil productions, is a tribute to the artistry of the human body -- graceful, athletic, capable of performing feats that challenge our vision of the real world.