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No ordinary circus, the 'Cirque' comes to town, pitches big top on California beach

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 8:33 PM EDT, Wed March 21, 2012
The Cirque du Soleil travelling show Ovo has opened at Santa Monica Pier in Southern California. Cirque du Soleil is internationally famous for presenting humans who perform astonishing acrobatics, contortions, juggling and trampoline and trapeze acts. The Cirque du Soleil travelling show Ovo has opened at Santa Monica Pier in Southern California. Cirque du Soleil is internationally famous for presenting humans who perform astonishing acrobatics, contortions, juggling and trampoline and trapeze acts.
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No ordinary circus
No ordinary circus
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No ordinary circus
No ordinary circus
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Cirque du Soleil comes to Santa Monica Pier
  • The internationally traveling show's name, Ovo, means "egg" in Portuguese
  • Performers in insect and bug costumes appeal to children -- and the kid in adults

Santa Monica, California (CNN) -- At last, the circus came to town.

It's no ordinary circus. In fact, it even has a French name -- Cirque de Soleil -- which is internationally famous for not using any animals and presenting only humans whose astonishing acrobatics, contortions, juggling, and trampoline and trapeze acts seem anything but.

What sets this latest Cirque du Soleil show apart from its usual performances -- such as in Las Vegas -- is that the performers picked a real carnival atmosphere to set up an ol' fashioned big top.

The traveling road show arrived at the Santa Monica Pier, a popular attraction on the sunny shores of southern California whose wharf sports a merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, roller coaster, arcade and Kewpie doll-like games.

It all evokes a throwback era as families flocked to the high-pitched tents beside the shore to see the itinerant circus artists.

If the Cirque shows in Las Vegas are marketed largely to a grown-up crowd, then the traveling show, called Ovo, unmistakably targets children -- and the kid in all adults, too.

Ovo is about critters that fascinate every child: bugs, insects, butterflies, ants, crickets and a ladybug.

Because the production is conducted under a circus tent, the stage acrobatics aren't as lavish as other Cirque performances in brick-and-mortar venues.

But the performers' costumes and acrobatics are as spectacular as ever, and if the amazement and awe expressed on children's faces are any indication, Ovo meets again the Cirque's high standards.

The narrative weaving together the gymnastics and superhuman feats involves a yeoman-like insect delivering an egg -- or "ovo" in Portuguese.

"This timeless symbol of the life cycle and birth of numerous insects represents the underlying thread of the show," the show's creators said in their brochure. "Graphically, OVO hides an insect in its name: The two 'Os' represent the eyes while the letter 'V' forms the nose."

All the characters are mesmerized by the egg, as if a monolith appearing out of nowhere.

As a sideshow, there's a love story between a gangly insect and a plump ladybug.

Among the show's novel acts is a character named "Creatura," whose costume is part Slinky toy, part insect, and can twist, contract and expand into seemingly unnatural creations.

Another memorable bit is the hand-balancing by a dragonfly character, atop a metal structure resembling a plant stalk and spiraling tendrils.

Perhaps the most kinetic scene, though, is the "Wall" act -- a staple in the Cirque -- of 20 artists running, jumping and bouncing off or against a 26-foot wall.

Not unlike kids jumping on a bed and bouncing off their own bedroom walls.

Under its blue-and-yellow "grand chapiteau," or big top, Ovo concludes its southern California run this month and then travels to Portland, Oregon, next month, followed by the Australian cities of Brisbane and Sydney in July and September, respectively.

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