‘Zarkana’ returns streamlined, slicker, stunning

‘Zarkana’ — Photo courtesy of Richard Termine

NEW YORK — Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana has set up shop at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall for its second summer residency. The show, which will eventually land at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas for an open-ended run, has gone through a complete overhaul. Last summer’s spectacle was death-defying, beautiful and, at 2-hours-30-minutes, a little long. This year, the folks at Cirque du Soleil have streamlined the evening into an easily digestible 90 minutes with no intermission. The cutting back hasn’t changed the thrill and enjoyment of one of the top properties in the Cirque repertoire. Zarkana is the finest example of big-budget entertainment.

We enter a warped world of surreality through the eyes of a strange magician named Zark. He sings in that unique Cirque style, a language somewhere in between Spanish, English and Mandarin. His seriousness is complemented well by a barrage of clowns dressed in creative white outfits. Try as they might, these performers can never steal our attention away from the acrobats and artists who make up the bulk of Zarkana.

The acts are impressive and play well in the voluminous Radio City Music Hall. The evening’s smallest feat — Erika Chen showing off her sand painting talents — is even broadcast on an enormous screen so all theatergoers can enjoy the performance.

Things officially begin with Maria Choodu’s brilliantly choreographed juggling act. Not only does she throw objects into the air, but she has the unbelievable ability to bounce the balls against walls and have them return safely into her hands. She creates a dizzying display of repetitiveness, and it starts the show off on the right note.

She’s followed by Victoria Dvoretskaya and Dmitry Dvoretskiy performing a “Ladders” routine from the heights of the stage. Although Victoria is able to balance herself perfectly, a helpful cable wire keeps the audience’s stress level at ease.

Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall — Photo courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

The “Flags” act is always a fan favorite, in addition to Pedro Carillo and Luis Acosta on the “High Wire”. There are many highlights in the 90-minute program, with each act building on the risk factor of the previous one.

Perhaps the best is saved for last. The final three routines stretch the limits of the human body and question the sanity of these performers, who daily put their lives on the line for the paying public.

“Wheel of Death,” which has been featured in a couple Cirque shows, features Carlos Marin and Junior Delgado circulating from the top of the proscenium to the bottom of the stage as they fly through the air on an ever-revolving pair of hamster wheels. At the performance I attended, on more than one occasion it appeared these two guys were headed for surefire injury.

They were followed by Anatoly Zalevskiy’s artistic hand balancing act, where the acrobat stretches his body into the most uncomfortable of positions. Then, the grand finale features a “Banquine” ensemble piece that has performers using each other’s shoulders to stand more than 20 feet in the air.

Throughout the evening, which is adeptly directed by François Girard, Cirque’s band plays infectious music from the sides of the stage. Clowns break the line between performers and audience members, even scouring the orchestra section for a willing volunteer.

There’s not much story behind Zarkana. A strange-looking baby appears in a fishbowl. A city’s skyline can be seen in the background. Curtains upon curtains rise and fall. Everything drips of theatricality, but with 90 minutes, there’s not much subtext on how it all connects together. Zarkana takes the approach that is probably most appreciated by audience members: Let us entertain you and have you home before it gets too dark.

New York City audiences (and eventually Vegas audiences) are privileged to have such a fine Cirque property just a ticket purchase away. Zarkana will likely delight spectators for years to come.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Zarkana

  • Written and directed François Girard

  • Running time: 90 minutes

  • Currently playing at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Click here for more information.

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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