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There's erotica in the air at Cirque

The troupe's newest Las Vegas show explores human sexuality.

June 05, 2003|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

About three years ago, during the planning stages for its third permanent show in Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil considered creating a family-friendly clown show, said Lyn Heward president and chief operating officer of Cirque's creative content division.

Instead, Cirque's newest Las Vegas offering, "Zumanity," premiering Aug. 14 at New York-New York Casino, won't feature clowns for the kids, but instead an experiment in R-rated erotica for an audience 18 and older.

Rehearsals for "Zumanity" conclude Friday at Cirque's Montreal headquarters, and begin in the Vegas space June 23.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Heward said Cirque du Soleil knew from the outset it wanted "Zumanity" to be different from its other two permanent Vegas shows, "Mystere" and "O."

Cirque began to reconsider its first impulse to create a clown show, Heward said, because of the small size of the performance space offered in the New York-New York casino -- about 1,200 seats versus the 1,600- to 2,500-seat spaces the company traditionally has used (Cirque's latest traveling show, "Varekai," premieres in Los Angeles Sept. 12). Cirque creators would not disclose the cost of creating "Zumanity." "O" cost a reported $100 million, and "Mystere" a reported $51 million.

"It had a very different feeling about it," she said. "It was a more close-up, intimate type of setting for a show. We thought, we can't do a massive, circus-like show." The intimacy of the space triggered the impulse to focus on an intimate subject: human sexuality. "We are bringing humanity, art and performance together to explore what people are sometimes timid to explore," she said.

Audience members must be 18 to be admitted. The performance will adhere to county guidelines prohibiting "lewdness" -- which, Heward observed, is never Cirque's style anyway.

While Cirque is remaining mysterious about the show's content, Nevada laws dictate that, while breasts can be displayed during the show, genitalia must remain covered.

"We have an approach that the human body in all its forms is beautiful; our other shows also deal with that," she said. "Our other shows also have a sensual edge to them, but this show goes farther than that." The show defuses the eroticism with a hearty dose of humor, Heward said. "We can laugh at ourselves too, and show our foibles when it comes to our sensuality," she said.

Heward said the style of the show called for "more mature" artists than past shows, including acrobats who are less gymnastic and more "exotic."

She added that "Zumanity" will capitalize on what she calls a resurgence of interest in cabaret performance, evidenced by the popularity of the movie "Moulin Rouge!"

" 'Moulin Rouge!' and some of the films that have come out have really brought home the notion of a more European or 'world' style of cabaret theater," Heward said. "This is a hotel casino that is built to look like New York City; you think of an underground edge to the clubs there, and that's what this show has. It's an edge that you might feel more at home with in New York or Berlin or Paris than in Las Vegas."

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