After months of waiting and anticipation, I finally got to go into NYC and see Cirque du Soleil's Wintuk show at Madison Square Garden. I have been following the creative process through Wintuk's interactive website and various trailers that were released about the show. I got really interested in seeing the technical boundaries that would be pushed to the limit this time. It had promises of incorporating projections and puppets into an already very diverse show. I was hoping I wouldn't be let down based on Cirque's history and attention to detail.
The show itself had a pretty simple storyline: There is a city without snow, and a young boy goes on a quest to find the snow and bring it back. Cirque has been heading in this artistic direction a lot lately, in which it brings a plot into the performance to help connect the various acts. This style is a big success for audiences who are use to seeing more traditional theatre, but I think Wintuk unfortunately missed the mark this time. There were a lot of great aspects of the show, but the storytelling element was what bombed for me. The main character in the show is the human child Jamie who goes in search of the show. He is what connects the story to the performers. Short of being present on stage for the entire show and casually interacting with the other characters, he doesn't really push the story forward or lead the action. On top of all of this, he is the only character that doesn't perform some amazing and unbelievable feat. The six over-sized dog puppets also fall into this category. They are a great spectacle on stage, even down to their video projector lit eyes, but their consistent and very prominent presence on stage puts a damper on the action, particularly in the middle of the show.
A major thing to understand about this Cirque show is it is very family and child oriented. I would call it the new “Christmas tradition”, where everyone comes to see the spectacle of the amazing performances, instead of Santa, and that hopefully by the end of the show it magically starts to snow. So what about this snow? I hate ruining endings, but I suspect anyone reading this clearly understands it's going to snow at the end of the show. I mentioned a few months back in the blog about my high hopes for witnessing an amazing snow effect. I was a little disappointed to find that the show went with the more surreal tissue-paper snow flakes, opposed to suggesting a real snow storm. I mean this is Cirque, and to exaggerate a bit; I was expecting snow making machines shooting real snow everywhere. The show is for kids as I mentioned, so I can't completely be disappointed with their choice to literally cover the entire audience in tissue-paper snow flakes.
The circus-style performers did a decent job and were by far responsible for holding this show together; my personal favorites being the Rola-bola, the Russian Bars, and the Hula-hoop act. In the Rola-bola a performer balances on a myriad of strange objects that roll and twist at more than ten feet in the air. The Russian bars were also quite amazing and can best be described as a cross between a gymnastics beam, trampoline and uneven bar tricks that lead to an almost unbelievable aerial movements by a human. And the Hula-hoop contortionist was just ridiculous, but you'll just have to see it to believe it.
Finally, we can discuss the show's lighting. I had mixed feeling about it. For starters, I'd estimate that 90% of the rig was moving lights. The majority of conventional fixtures that were used were focused as audience lighting. I love moving lights, but without a good backbone of conventional fixtures to support a design, it's a lot harder to pull off a polished look. I think that was the primary weakness in the design. I did think there were some exceptional looks on stage, my favorite being the ice-giants battle scene that was just spot on to how I imagined the battle. My only other major concern with the show was the color choice felt warm to me. It didn't have that icy edge and crisp look I associate with a very bleak winter. There was a lot of discussion about long winter shadows in the “text” of the play and in the design process, however I didn't get this feeling either. The stage was of a reasonable size, and from my seat I couldn't see any 5K HMI or similar instrument, but something like this could have had a huge impact on the show. Overall, Wintuk did not live up to my Cirque Du Soleil expectations. Hopefully if the show comes back again next winter, there will be some major changes to leave the “Win” in Wintuk. I would rate it 3 out of 5 stars.