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Q+A: One Drop spectacle starts first rehearsals with Mukhtar Mukhtar as Cirque Week gets underway

Cirque du Soleil's 'One Night for One Drop' at Bellagio

Tom Donoghue/

Cirque du Soleil’s “One Night for One Drop” at Bellagio on Friday, March 22, 2013.

'One Night for One Drop': Blue Carpet at Hyde Bellagio

Shania Twain arrives on the blue carpet for Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

Sixty to eighty Cirque du Soleil artists will begin their first rehearsals this week for the second annual one-night-only original production as a unique fundraiser for the world’s growing water crisis.

Tickets have just gone on sale for the March 21 event at Michael Jackson One Theater at Mandalay Bay.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit Springs Preserve’s effort for water conservation and sustainable living in the Las Vegas Valley. One Drop itself has worked to provide access to clean water for more than 300,000 people worldwide since its founding by Cirque chief Guy Laliberte in 2007.

The show “One Thought, One World” is being created and directed by Mukhtar O.S. Mukhtar and Loppo Martinez as part of the fourth annual Cirque Week celebrating 20 years of the Montreal company’s presence on the Strip. Mukhtar, who was a choreographer on the first production in March, will provide a sneak-video preview of next year’s plans.

In advance of his reveal Tuesday, I talked with Mukhtar, who used to perform as the Krishna character in “The Beatles’ Love” at the Mirage, one of eight Cirque productions on the Strip. He remains on call as an emergency understudy for the three main characters in the show for whenever he might be needed, “but to be honest with you, I’ve been too busy the last couple of months to go in and help out.”

Can you make this bigger and better than the first show?

Of course that’s my aim, and it will be more powerful than last year, for sure. I can tell you that this year there’s going to be a lot more elements involved. I don’t want to be so literal with the water element of the show. I don’t want to show people water until the end of the show. I want people to yearn for water throughout.

It's been described to me as desertification. How do you describe it?

Well, desertification is one element of the show. The whole show is called “One Thought, One World.” If you want to go deeper into the title so you understand it more, it’s that we are shaped by our thoughts; create the world you want to live in. So that’s the message I want to push in the show. As a collective, we can really make this change that we’re all trying to do. That’s the only way we’re going to do this instead of doing it individually. There are four elements in this show that our main character goes through; desertification is one of them. This is the beginning of the show; this is the moment where he realizes that where he comes from is affected by a big lack of water.

Throughout the journey, he’s trying to find out what is causing this desertification. Then he goes to the city, where he experiences technology for the first time, and it's an anomaly to him; he doesn’t know what it is. Once he gets familiar with it, he finally finds the possible solutions to find the water that he’s been looking for. He’s forced to make an enormous sacrifice with the water, though, and that’s the part of the story I don’t want to spoil for people coming to watch.

Cirque du Soleil's 'One Night for One Drop'

Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

Antonio Esfandiari Wins Big One for One Drop

Guy Laliberte and Antonio Esfandiari during the Big One for One Drop at the Rio on Tuesday, July 3, 2012. Launch slideshow »

So two questions out of that, just steer me the right way. There’s one navigator? Is that going to be a celebrity or a Cirque artist?

That’s going to be a Cirque artist. On his journey, he’s going to come face-to-face with celebrities. They’re going to be incorporated into the show instead of just using them as a cabaret star, where you see them just coming to do their thing and leave. This is another thing that’s going to be a little different from last year’s show. I’m trying to really keep holding everyone together, where even the celebrity guests who we’re inviting are part of the show.

There’s one navigator who’s leading us through the show, but then there’s also other characters who are supporting him. We’ve got two characters; the yin and yang. One represents the earth, more wisdom — he’s basically guiding that show from that point-of-view. The opposite character for him represents time evolving — the technology aspect of this whole experience. He represents more the new-age world that we’re all in right now.

Obviously, you can’t tell me which celebrities you have invitations out to, but how many celebrities might there be?

We’re in talks with a few. If it was my perfect world, I’d have maybe three different types of celebrities in the whole show. We’re thinking about their time for rehearsals, wardrobe and technical, so I think if we’re being realistic, three is what I would want. You never know who we will wind up with.

When did you start planning this in your head?

Two months ago is when I really got into it. There are two shows I’m working on right now and this is one of them. The other show is going to Brazil and New York after this one is over.

Do we see you in this show this year?

No, I will not be onstage. Last time, I created and choreographed one of the acts. This year, I need my full focus on bringing this show to life. We’re going to start rehearsals hopefully this week with the character stuff, and we’re already making a lot of equipment for the acrobatic stuff. From this week onward, we will be full-on rehearsing right until the night of the show.

The first show had 230 Cirque artists onstage. How many do you estimate you’ll have?

I think we’re having maybe 60 to 80 artists this time. I cut back because with the concept that I have, 60 to 80 is what I need to make it work. It will still be bigger and better. As a part of the last show, I kind of already know the elements that worked, and I already know the elements that I’m bringing to this year’s show. This year, instead of doing a more act-by-act show, we’re really trying to push the story element from the beginning all the way to the end.

So in layman’s terms, that means it’s far more a story thread this time than a collection of unique acts set against a backdrop of water?

Exactly. We will see acts, but the acts are there for a reason — it’s supporting a certain part of the story. For example, there’s a moment where it rains because our navigator had performed a poetic ritual to bring the rain; but this rain, I need to create an act that will resemble what rain is for me and what the environment of destruction is so we have a big conflict between the two. Instead of me saying, “OK, I’m going to bring an act and create a story around it,” I’m doing my story first and then creating an act to make that story come alive.

Will the wardrobe departments of Cirque be making new uniforms, new costumes for the show?

The costumes will all be original. We’ve been working on costume designs for the past two weeks. There’s also going to be some original music, and we’re going to have live music onstage, as well. There are a lot of elements involved right now.

How many hours a day are you going to devote to this from the start of this week?

To be honest with you, I can’t add up the hours because I don’t only work when I’m onstage or in the casino; I’m always working even when I’m at home. I’m on my computer thinking, “OK, how do I make this better?” It is always going on in my head, even when I’m working on the other project, it’s still in my head. I’m basically going to be working nonstop from now until the show. Usually with Cirque, it takes six months to a year to create a whole new creation, and I’ve got a cast that has to do it in three!

How does it feel that you slave away for months and the show is a big hit for one night, never to be seen again?

Click to enlarge photo

Cirque Week at "Zumanity" on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in New York-New York.

Click to enlarge photo

Cirque Week at "Zumanity" on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in New York-New York.

To be honest with you, at first when I heard that, I was like, “Oh, just that one, and that's it?” In a way, though, it feels like an elite show; an original show, a one-only-of-its-own kind. People want to go and see it just because it’s for one night.

Can I assume there will be a worldwide Internet broadcast afterward for a month to raise more money for One Drop?

Yes, that’s the plan. One thing I can guarantee is this show will definitely be different than last year’s show. I’m really trying to attack a Cirque show from a different point-of-view, from my point-of-view. I really want to show the story of the lack of water using a Cirque element — using Cirque artists, but not what people would expect to see at a Cirque show.

Cirque Week began Saturday with behind-the-scenes looks at “Zumanity" in New York-New York, with artistic director Ria Martens showing the artists custom-designed costumes by designer Thierry Mugler. Sunday it continued with artistic director Joe Walsh’s extreme fire demonstrations at “O" in Bellagio. Today, the crew of “Zarkana" at Aria teach a course in rigging, clowning, juggling and body percussion.

After Mukhtar’s presentation Tuesday, there will be backstage visits to Cirque’s “Mystere" at Treasure Island, “Michael Jackson One" at Mandalay Bay on Wednesday, “Ka" at MGM Grand on Thursday, with Criss Angel at his “Believe" show in Luxor on Friday and wrapping with dance classes onstage at “The Beatles’ Love" at Mirage.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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