La Nouba at Downtown Disney

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About 10 years ago when Disney gave my family comp tickets to see Cirque du Soleil’s newest show La Nouba at their Downtown Disney complex I had never heard of Cirque du Soleil and had no idea what to expect. I could not imagine how it was going to affect me. I now know that it is incorrect to say that one “sees” a Cirque du Soleil show. One “experiences” it. And if you are open to it, you might find that it has a profound effect upon you. In my lifetime, there have only been a handful of theatre experiences that have affected me so profoundly as did La Nouba.

Cirque du Soleil is a large organization that has performances of various shows all around the world. Some shows are in permanent residence–Such as La Nouba at Disney World and others in Las Vegas. Some shows travel and are actually performed under a big tent. Lately, there have been shows especially made for film and television. In the beginning, their tag line was “We reinvent the Circus.” Once you see a show, you will understand the truth embedded in that description. But as the French say, “viva la difference.”

La Nouba has a permanent home in a theatre located in the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment complex, right next to Disney Quest, House of Blues, and Wolfgang Puck’s Restaurant. The building is cleverly shaped to give the impression of a large circus tent complete with guide wires. Parking is convenient and free right next to the theatre. One website I visited said the theatre holds over 1600 seats. I would never have guessed it was that large. I have been to La Nouba several times and have sat in several different seats, from the front to the back and from the left to the center to the right. I can honestly say there is not a single bad seat in the house. In fact, the different seats have all presented a different view that allowed me to enjoy the show from a different perspective. It is not cheap. Tickets range in price from $52 to $115 as of 2008.

The show lasts ninety minutes without an intermission. There are concession stands that sell drinks and food items, but don’t waste your time. This show puts you on the edge of your seat and you are constantly looking left to right, up and down. You don’t want anything in your hands that distracts you. The proscenium juts way out into the audience and the seats are curved around it, making every seat feel intimately close to the action. In addition, there is a long walkway between the lower and upper seating sections that is used during the performance to create an even closer experience regardless of your seat. Lastly, come early. There is a pre-show, audience participation act by two clowns that is not to be missed!

As for the show itself, what can one say? Every now and then a piece of theatre comes along that is so new and so innovative that it defies conventional description. I will attempt to give some indication of the show. But I can’t do it justice. Just know that what I say with words can only be express in pictures, what you see in pictures can only be felt in person, and what you feel in person can only be experienced within your own heart. That, I believe, is the magic of La Nouba. It is a magic that is at once timeless yet very much in the moment. It is a magic that touches all ages. Your three year old will enjoy the show as much as you and you will enjoy the show as much as your grandmother.

Overall, the show is a combination of circus-like acts performed by incredible athletes and acrobats in the most gorgeous and unique costumes highlighted by a live band and soloist playing soulfully esoteric music which enhances the visual experience. Very few words are spoken. Each acrobatic and athletic act is engulfed by moments of comedy, dance, or some other visual element most of which will be a new experience for you.

The show begins with a pre-show where two clowns, dressed and performing in a classic Emmet Kelly-esque fashion, interact with the audience and a load of boxes. Then comes the opening march, where the most fantastically costumed people you have ever seen do a slow processional through the center of the audience–Each one walking in a unique way that creates a memorable character. This is an introduction to the characters that will grace your evening for the next ninety minutes. An entertaining, if not confusing, segment occurs next leaving you to wonder if you are watching a play, a surreal play, a dance, an opera, or simply something unintelligible. My advice to you at this point is to sit back and take it all in. Soon enough you’ll be grabbing the edge of your seat.

Then comes one unbelievable act after another. There are tight rope walkers, trampolinists, BMX bikers, young Chinese girls with diabolos, human wheels, a person who climbs a mountain of chairs, and my personal favorite-The aerial ballet in silk (Which is exactly what it sounds like!) that soars over your head. Between, and sometimes during, the acts you are entertained by four bald “clowns” dressed in white flowing garb whose facial expressions and choreographed movements enhance the performance and bring lots of laughter. The two Emmet Kelly-esque clowns also have small bits which are usually hilarious.

From time to time you will get a glimpse of the musicians and soloist elaborately costumed and performing beautiful numbers from somewhere high above the performers on the stage. The stage itself is an engineering marvel. Large building-like structures complete with windows appear from nowhere, performers disappear into the floor, extensive trampoline runners appear and disappear, high wires come and go, a large moon and a cowboy on a horse traverse the rear for who knows what reason, and there is even a miniature train set chugging along the stage floor at one point.

You won’t notice it when you attend your first performance, but in subsequent performances you may see that the complex choreography of the action belies an intense focus on the safety of the performers. A gangly trampolinist in tights adds humor to the person climbing chairs, but a closer look reveals that he is the safety net in the event of an accident. His own safety is ensured as he slips under the table when new chairs are piled high. The four clowns in flowing white appear to be augmenting the young Chinese girls doing fantastic feats with the diabolos, but a closer look reveals the extra diabolos hidden behind the fountain ready to be unobtrusively passed from clown to girl in the event of a mistake while a neighboring clown retrieves the errant diabolo in a way that makes the error appear to be a part of the show.

I was a theatre major in college, so I am attracted to the theatrical arts. Occasionally, you may encounter a show that breaks new ground. Occasionally you may encounter a show that simply leaves you speechless. And occasionally you may encounter a show that for some unknown reason just tugs on your heart. But to find a show that does all that and more seems miraculous. In a way I can’t explain, this show bypasses your brain, ignores logic, and simply creeps inside your heart helping you to feel more alive.

I mentioned at the beginning of the blog that there were only a few theatre pieces, in addition to La Nouba, that had such a profound effect on me. Those would include the first time I experienced the movie Chariots of Fire in 1981 (not coincidentally the same year I won the National Championship in wrestling), the first time I saw the movie An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982, and the first time I saw Les Miserables with the incomparable Colm Wilkinson portraying Jean Valjean at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in 1987.

Don’t miss La Nouba. After the show, I predict you won’t miss the money you had to spend to see it.

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