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November 14, 2018

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Sad end of Cirque’s ‘Zarkana’ makes way for convention space at Aria


Cirque du Soleil

Cassiopee’s sand painting in Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” at Aria.

'Zarkana': Red Carpet and Show at Aria

Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

‘Zarkana’ Aerialists Perform in Aria Porte Cochere

British twin brothers Andrew and Kevin Atherton, Cirque du Soleil aerialists with “Zarkana,” perform under the monorail truss in Aria’s porte cochere Monday, March 3, 2014. The performance was promoting “Zarkana’s” reimagined show, which includes a new soundtrack and a new aerial straps act. Launch slideshow »




When the curtain comes down on Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” at Aria on April 30, it will mark the end of 2,053 performances. The production played 381 in New York, Madrid and Moscow and 1,672 here on the Strip.

Incredibly, four of the artists have never missed a show. In all, there are 77 performers of 14 nationalities, including from the United States, Russia, Lebanon, Switzerland and Kazakhstan.

A Cirque rep told me: “The show will play its last performance April 30. Following that, Cirque du Soleil will try its best to use as many artists as possible in other productions.

“Cirque invests so much time and effort cultivating its incredible artists and their unique talents that the company works just as hard to keep them in the family. Some artists will return home to their native countries, others will stay in Las Vegas, and some have chosen to move on to other projects.”

I first saw “Zarkana” at Radio City Music Hall in New York before it was moved cross-country to Aria in 65 trucks loaded with sets, wardrobe and other equipment.

It’s an embarrassing end to a Cirque spectacular, as MGM Resorts execs have ruled that revenue from expanded meeting and convention space would be greater than the magical artistic endeavor. So for the second time since “Mystere” at Treasure Island established Cirque on the Strip, one of its shows ends.

(The first was “Viva Elvis,” coincidentally in the same Aria theater.)

It’s a tragedy because although “Zarkana” started here as a confused production with its own Cirque language about a magician who loses his mojo, it later found its perfect footing. When I saw it a few weeks ago in preparation for its finale, the show was in its best shape ever and with a full theater.

It had become pure magic and spectacle without the confusion. The audience still knew that the clowns Hocus and Pocus brought to life an extraordinary company of reunited performers in an abandoned theater.

It was 90 minutes of incredible juggling, balancing, aerial acrobatics and high-speed daring, including on the ever-faster Wheel of Death. By the time the show closes, it will have traveled 780 miles in rotation, on average spinning more than 50 times each show.

Several of the best Las Vegas circus acts are featured in “Zarkana”: the Banquine, a human pyramid of amazing power and agility as acrobats defy gravity and space to propel themselves upward with super-human strength to land atop one another’s shoulders at dizzying heights; and the Wheel of Death, where dual-caged artists spin rotating drums way up into the 40-foot ceiling to skip rope and perform handstands at high speed.

There also is the flying trapeze where acrobats crisscross high above the stage with meticulous timing as they launch from platforms and swinging bars in tight choreography that ensures they never drop one another.

One holds one’s breath while watching with fingers clenched tightly to seats in fear for the athletes. Two twin-brother aerial strap artists who fly out from the stage high in the air over the audience achieve another feat of aerial prowess.

The transforming snake woman into spider lady and finally rose woman is a powerful work of art as she sits perched atop the stage singing incantations. The clown tamer is exotic cracking her whip to keep crazy clowns in line. A mad scientist, beautiful ballerina and chameleon of a convict round out this collection of eclectic spirits.

I also rave about the amazing female juggler who defies gravity and space with her dozen rhythmic tennis balls that dance over, under and inside theater props. How this young lady mastered this act is beyond me as it defies logic.

Just how high can one climb a ladder balanced solely on its two feet before toppling? You’ll be amazed at what the ladder artist achieves climbing almost to the rafters of the theater. The young Russian bar artist is another miracle as her team launches her high to perform multiple twists and somersaults before she lands safely either back on the narrow bar or shoulders of a human tower.

As if that’s not enough circus attractions, there also are high-wire artists and poetry of a hand-balancing act that is a fluid ballet using the athlete’s remarkable strength. Finally, the sand-painting oracle, an accomplished visual artist who creates her temporary works of art in blue sand. It’s a unique talent, and her artistry is one you want to capture forever in her ever-changing masterpieces.

The costumes are circus crazy to match the unbelievable antics of its stars. The wardrobe team does 26 loads of laundry per day to maintain the life of costume pieces. That’s more than 20,000 loads since opening at Aria. The performers go through 30 pairs of false eyelashes each month — 1,260 pairs since opening.

It’s sad that such a brilliant artistic tour de force comes to an end in the name of commerce so more dollars go to the bottom line to satisfy corporate shareholders. But that’s the way of the world, right or wrong!

The small consolation for now is that Cirque is offering its guests a deal for the final nights: Buy one ticket and get the second for $29 through April 30. There’ll be tears onstage as the curtain comes down for the last time, and no amount of extraordinary “Zarkana” magic will be able to save that from happening.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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