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REVIEW: Cirque du Soleil is back in town, an echo of circuses past

iPhoto caption: Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.
/By / May 13, 2024

It should say something about the Cirque du Soleil brand that even a show like ECHO — unclear in concept and messy around the edges — is a great time for audience members of all ages.

But indeed, it’s hard not to make a comparison between shows, and miss the acts that stopped in Toronto in 2022 and 2023. Cirque du Soleil has paid us a visit three times since the pandemic — once with the steampunk-inspired KURIOS, then last year’s Wheel-of-Death-supplied KOOZA, and now ECHO. KURIOS and KOOZA were fabulous touring shows, both memorable for their stunts and their riffing on the bones of the Soleil formula.

On its own, ECHO will satiate thrill-seeking Torontonians: there are plenty of high-flying stunts and larger-than-life set pieces, including a several-storeys-tall humanoid puppet with disturbingly lifelike eyes. An agile young cast performs high-flying tricks, while a live band thrums away with increasing intensity.

But in the context of Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas past, ECHO is a touch disappointing. On the night I attended, there were visible cracks in the show: performers frequently bobbled their landings, hitting the stage with a nerve-wracking thud. Balls juggled one moment were balls dropped the next. Projections presumably mapped to align just so with the massive, mid-stage box were askew at several points in the second act, shattering the otherwise nifty illusions provided by the cube, a massive white structure on which the performers dance and climb.

It’s not terrible — of course not. Original writer and director Es Devlin was onto something with that cube. Sometimes in ECHO, we see the cube disintegrate into tinier and tinier squares; it’s nothing short of magical when projections of boxes turn into real cardboard boxes that earthbound clowns stack to increasingly high heights.

But something seems to have gone awry in the transfer of the show from Devlin’s care to Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar’s (the company replaced Devlin after a weak premiere). The box, while often an interesting premise, poses sightline issues for some audience members — a second-act tightrope walker risks being obscured entirely by the edges of the box and two onstage singers. As well, the box seems to be emblematic of the bifurcated directorial concept: it’s immediately clear without Googling the show’s history that two creative visions come to a head in ECHO, and they don’t gel particularly well. On one hand, you have the ultra-sleek box and the treasures inside; on the other, you have a mysterious world of paper animals infiltrated by a blue little girl and her blue dog. Most Cirque du Soleil shows tend to wield a thin story, but ECHO’s is close to non-existent beyond the initial offer of a girl and her pet on an odyssey of some sort.

Nicolas Vaudelet’s costumes add some visual interest, with lovely, leathery headpieces that suggest all manner of paper-rendered fauna. Jade Pybus, Andy Theakstone, and Hugo Montecristo offer a score that gets the job done — it’s haunting and intense at all the right moments, though it gets a little repetitive by ECHO’s final feat.

Performer-wise, Robel Weldemikael and Meareg Mehar are the stars of the show in their Icarian Games routine, as one spins the other on their feet for an impressive swathe of tricks. It’s one of the simpler feats of ECHO, but it’s also the most successful, binding together athleticism and grace. Clément Malin and Caio Sorana, too, are great crowd-pleasers, stacking cardboard boxes with lots of drama.

Look: if a friend offers you a free ticket to ECHO, or you’re looking for a way to spend a Saturday afternoon with your family, sure, go. But it’s fairly safe to assume the circus will be back in town next year, and hopefully, with a show that doesn’t seem to be coming undone at the seams.

ECHO runs at 2150 Lake Shore Boulevard West until August 4. Tickets are available here.

Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here.

Aisling Murphy

Aisling Murphy

Aisling is Intermission's senior editor and an award-winning arts journalist with bylines including the Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, CBC Arts, CTV News Toronto, and Maclean's. She likes British playwright Sarah Kane, most songs by Taylor Swift, and her cats, Fig and June.



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