Despite Environmental Themes, Cirque du Soleil's Ovo Stays Apolitical

The Ovo ensemble.
The Ovo ensemble. Cirque du Soleil
The swirling movement, acrobatic finesse, and playful story lines of Cirque du Soleil have captivated audiences since 1984. The touring show Ovo, which will come to the American Airlines Arena July 28 through 30, is no exception to the company's colorful repertoire. But Ovo puts a tropical spin on Cirque’s oeuvre with its unique Brazil-influenced setting: Ovo, which is Portuguese for "egg," takes place in the colorful, naturalistic setting of an insect colony.

The love story follows the character of the Foreigner, a fly from a distant land, as he arrives in the insect colony. The Foreigner meets and falls in love with the Ladybug, but he initially experiences rejection from the colony. Tim Bennett, artistic director of Ovo, summarizes the story simply and cheerfully: “Bug meets bug, bug loses bug, bug gets bug at the end. The colony learns there are more similarities than differences between them.”

Ovo was created in 2009 and premiered in Montreal in April of that year. “We had an idea that we wanted to do something about the environment... Cirque is so environmentally aware, and we promote conservation and awareness,” Bennett says.

The climate-change debate was no less heated in 2009 than it is now, but President Obama’s administration was taking steps to ameliorate the effects. During Obama's term, the president established new carbon emissions and fuel economy standards in the States and joined 193 other world leaders in signing the Paris climate agreement. But that was then. Now the Trump administration has reversed Obama's environmental efforts, angering activists last month by indicating that it will not participate in the Paris accord.

So has Ovo taken on a political resonance in the time of Trump? “Because of Cirque’s history of human rights and environmental awareness, all work is supportive of inclusion and human rights and environmental awareness and care,” Bennett says. But he stresses that the show does not intend to comment on the politics of environmental issues. “Ovo is one of the most playful, gentle shows in the Cirque show canon. It’s bright, positive, and peppy. It’s much more of a positive experience than getting involved in political discussions or debate. It’s really about going to the theater and having a great time and having fun."
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Spider contortionist in Ovo.
Cirque du Soleil
If there's an issue Cirque du Soleil openly supports, it's human rights. In 2016, Cirque cancelled Ovo shows in the North Carolina cities of Greensboro and Charlotte after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which mandated that individuals use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates, essentially barring transgender individuals from using restrooms that match their gender identity. Cirque issued a statement in response: “Cirque du Soleil strongly believes in diversity and equality for every individual and is opposed to discrimination in any form. The new HB2 legislation passed in North Carolina is an important regression to ensuring human rights for all.”

Bennett says the action was in line with Cirque’s ethos on inclusion. “Cirque will always speak out about human rights. We are a very human-based organization that promotes... sensitivity and inclusion... [Ovo] shines a light on us-versus-them issues, highlighting similarities and differences.” He says Cirque values inclusion and equality because it includes performers and staff from 21 countries. “[Cirque] comes together and works together as a team with acts that require trust. We offer and respect all different perspectives as a family."

Bennett is especially excited to see Ovo premiere in Miami because of the South American influences on the show’s music, colors, and set design. The show is intended to be positive and attractive to a wide range of audiences. He says, “[Ovo] appeals to all people, from people who want to go for an escapist experience, to those who want to see high-level acrobatics and amazing things these artists can do, to people who have environmental awareness, to people who have sensitivity for human rights. [We’re going to have] a very good audience.”

Cirque du Soleil’s Ovo. July 28 through 30 at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; and Tickets start at $57.
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth