A member of the Cirque du Soleil cast watches as two performers sail through… (Arkasha Stevenson / Los…)
It had all the trappings of a Hollywood red-carpet opening: a crush of journalists, free food and a carefully orchestrated buzz of anticipation.
But the hullabaloo at the Kodak Theatre on Thursday morning was due not to the premiere of yet another superhero would-be blockbuster, but to the arrival of a new kid on Hollywood Boulevard: Cirque du Soleil.
This summer, the Montreal-based entertainment behemoth will be launching a planned 10-year residence at the Kodak, where a posse of 75 acrobats, aerialists and clowns will perform Cirque's latest big-top extravaganza, the movie-themed "Iris." Preview performances begin July 21, with the official opening set for Sept. 25.
Cirque hosted a partial sneak preview of "Iris," attended by dozens of reporters and some of the show's corporate sponsors. Afterward, Cirque executives and members of the show's creative team, including writer-director Philippe Decouflé and composer Danny Elfman, discussed the new production and talked up the potential benefits of having a year-round tenant to lure customers to the sprawling Kodak, which sometimes has labored to fill seats when it's not hosting the annual Academy Awards ceremony.
"There are 18 million visitors every year walking in front of the theater, but they have nothing to do," Daniel Lamarre, Cirque's president and chief executive, said in an interview. "So we hope we can capture those clientele, bring them in the seats, and make this show last forever."
Cirque personnel, including founder Guy Laliberté, have described "Iris" not simply as a mash note to the movies or the Hollywood industry, but as an homage to cinematic craftsmanship and the entertaining poetry that film creates out of light, sound and motion.
Thursday's preview of the $100-million production started with the show's opening sequence, which introduces some of the principal characters and visual motifs. It unspools inside a false proscenium, flanked by enormous cartoons of a top-hatted, monocle-wearing chap whose mouth doubles as a passageway. The proscenium is festooned with images of technological marvels from cinema's infancy, and is topped with a credo, "In Motion We Trust."
That was followed by a pas-de-deux between two male aerialists. Later came a simulated brawl between cops and gangsters on trampolines scattered across an ersatz Manhattan rooftop.
Rather than quoting or referencing specific films, "Iris" will have segments depicting various movie genres — gangster films, westerns, science fiction — all wrapped around a central love story. The show tips its hat to major technological shifts and innovations, such as the transition from silent black-and-white movies to "talkies" and color, and the development of special effects and even 3-D. Rear-screen projections are deployed in a way that make some performers appear to be jumping in and out of a movie screen.
"Iris" also will incorporate dance, reflecting Decouflé's background as head of the Paris-based contemporary dance company DCA. In an interview, the director expressed his admiration for classic Hollywood choreographers, such as Busby Berkeley, and cited the African American siblings Fayard and Harold Nicholas as two of his all-time favorite hoofers and Alvin Ailey and Merce Cunningham as two of his inspirations.
"I wanted to use the American way of dancing, which is really different than what we do," Decouflé said. "Here you are more showoff, I would say. But I think that's nice. I want to use American skills, I'm not here to try to make a French choreography. I want to use the American way of moving and this kind of show business."
"Iris" is one of three new shows that Cirque is scheduled to open this year, along with "Zarkana" at Radio City Music Hall in New York and a Michael Jackson-themed touring show that's expected to open this fall.
Murielle Cantin, Cirque's senior vice president for creative content, suggested there were some similarities between Cirque du Soleil and a major film studio — but with at least one crucial difference.
"To build a show, like in the movies, we have deadlines, we have budgets, we have actors, we have partners. I think there is quite a bit of resemblance," she said. "But we do our 'movie' live every night. And the acrobats, musicians, dancers perform live, 10 shows a week. Our show is a living, organic entity."