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Cirque du Soleil's IRIS, A Journey Through the World of Cinema

Cirque du Soleil IRIS

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A character from Cirque du Soleil's IRIS

A character in a praxinoscope skirt from Cirque du Soleil's IRIS

Photo © 2011 Kayte Deioma, used with permission
Sadly, due to disappointing ticket sales, IRIS closed January 19, 2013.

Cirque du Soleil's IRIS, A Journey Through the World of Cinema
Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90068
(877) 943-IRIS (4747) toll free
Map
Website: www.cirquedusoleil.com
Hours: Closed

Cirque's IRIS in Hollywood

IRIS, pronounced ee-rees, is Cirque du Soleil's permanent show at the Dolby Theatre (formerly Kodak Theatre), home of the Academy Awards, at the Hollywood & Highland shopping and entertainment complex in Hollywood, CA.

For anyone who has never seen a show by Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, each show is built around a series of animal-free circus acts from aerialists and trapeze artists to contortionists, acrobatic teams, trampoline tumblers and clown characters. Those acts, made up of the best trained physical artists in the world, are the basic building blocks. Then each show is constructed around a theme or storyline and strung together as in a dream, where your brain segues from one fantastical scene to another in ways that may or may not make immediate sense.

The Story

IRIS, which was created exclusively for the Dolby Theatre, is designed around the concept of cinema. The name itself refers to both the iris of the eye and of the camera. A combination of live video streams and pre-recorded video projecting on the backdrop adds a multimedia dimension in keeping with the subject matter.

In addition to the movie theme, which begins with cave shadows on a wall projected by writhing contortionists representing flames, a thin storyline weaves its way through the production. It presents the budding composer Buster, in pursuit of actress Scarlett, who is trying to pursue her movie career. Unlike some Cirque productions, this one is a talkie, at least in part, with dialogue led by a wannabe Hollywood star who changes gender to try to get an acting gig. Audience participation comes into play for a comic award show sequence.

The Circus Acts

Cave Fire Contortionists in Cirque du Soleil's IRIS

Cave Fire Contortionists in Cirque du Soleil's IRIS

Photo : Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Soleil, Costumes : Philippe Guillotel
The circus performers in IRIS are awesome in their execution of almost inhuman feats of physical prowess, and every one of them had me riveted. Two white-clad aerialists against a dark backdrop fit together in a dizzying array of shapes like homoerotic flying puzzle pieces. Contortionists bend into freakishly unnatural shapes as they writhe as flames in the cave shadows act. Two pairs of hand-to-hand artists compete with their real-time multi-projected selves for perfect balance. Acrobats dressed as colorful bugs spinning each other on their feet lend a cartoon element. Another highlight is the trampoline act set on a New York rooftop in a combination of film noir and keystone cops action with police chasing leaping gangsters with machine guns.

Props to the Costumes and Props

Philippe Guillotel's whimsically quirky costumes and Anne-Seguin Poirier's zany props compete for your attention throughout the show. A girl in a praxinoscopic skirt that shows animated boxers when it spins, a man with a crank camera on his head, aliens and monsters and a woman with two pair of legs are just a few of the interesting creations.

It's hard to tell where costumes leave off and props begin when chairs have human faces, and lamps and house plants are live characters. An automated old-time camera on a wooden tripod, a gramophone and a spotlight with barn doors roam around the stage magically avoiding being trampled by leaping acrobats and zany characters.

Setting the Stage

The second half of the show is even more stunning than the first, opening with a back stage film clip leading to an elaborate film set on stage. The set, combining ladders and rigging with a jungle movie set, is overrun with a chaos of tumblers, aerialists, actors and aliens moving in every direction. The fact that it's simply not possible to take in everything at once gives you a good reason to come back and see it again.

Jean Rabasse's imaginative film strip set design is the perfect framework for dancers moving with precision through a row of rectangular boxes to create the sense of film frames moving through a projector. The multimedia combination of projected images, and backlit silhouettes giving way to the New York rooftops with a water tower and a neon Hotel sign is a perfect platform for the trampoline tumblers to enact their cops and robbers chase scene.

The Music

Danny Elfman's score cycles through the moods of film history with a playfulness that lets you know exactly where you're supposed to be, from a cave to a B movie set to noir to keystone cops. The orchestration is beautiful, as are the musicians' period costumes. The orchestra plays in view of the audience from mezzanine and balcony boxes on either side of the theatre.

The Bottom Line

Film Noir Window Scene

Film Noir Window Scene in Cirque du Soleil's IRIS

Photo : Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Soleil, Costumes : Philippe Guillotel
If you're an adrenaline junkie only excited by things that crash and explode every 11 seconds, then IRIS may be too tame for you, but for anyone with a love of whimsy and an appreciation for physical artistry, you can't help but be charmed by this show. It's delightfully fun and upbeat and they've done a great job of articulating the cinema theme in each act, making it feel right at home in the Kodak Theatre. If you're a Cirque du Soleil regular, the physical feats will be familiar, but you'll still enjoy the Hollywood flair.

Check out the photos in my Cirque du Soleil IRIS Slide Show. You can also see my video of the New York skyline trampoline tumbler scene on YouTube.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary tickets for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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