To start and end each rehearsal for LOVE, Cirque du Soleil’s fifth and newest show on the Las Vegas strip, Director Dominic Champagne said, “Peace and love” to cast members, a reminder of one of the show’s most prevalent themes. LOVE, which is based on the lives and music of The Beatles, made its world debut at The Mirage on June 30, and has been sharing its timeless message and spectacular presentation with packed crowds ever since.
Seeds of Love Creating a show that uses The Beatles’ music is momentous: Never before has the band’s company, Apple Corps Ltd., agreed to a theatrical partnership of this magnitude. The seed for this collaboration was planted more than six years ago, thanks in part to the friendship of Cirque founder Guy Laliberté and the late George Harrison. Cirque’s creative team paired up with The Beatles’ original producer Sir George Martin, as well as his son Giles, to compile the show’s soundtrack; they chose from the entire catalog of songs and interviews recorded at Abbey Road Studios, and more than 100 songs were spliced together for the 90-minute production.
Making the Show The creation process began with a three-month workshop in Montreal in the spring of 2005, at which time a handful of dancers and acrobats test-drove concepts and material. “I think what [Champagne] drilled into us was intention,” says dancer Michelle Bolong. “He has a heavy story plot in his head, and if we’re not into it, and we don’t have the intention, then it’s not going to be believable. Other Cirque shows are meant to wow the audience. With LOVE, he wanted to move the audience.”
From September ’05 to February ’06, the entire cast assembled in Montreal to experiment with choreography and immerse themselves fully into studying The Beatles. Champagne challenged female performers, who were cast as Beatles groupies, to break out in hysterics by screaming, grabbing their hair and crying for hours, and brought in Sir George Martin, Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono to check out rehearsals and share stories about the band. “[We] learned all these nuances [we] never knew existed,” says character actor Craig Berman. “For instance, in our show, the song ‘I Am the Walrus’ starts with an ambulance siren, and the reason Dominic edited that in is because John Lennon was inspired by the rhythm of an ambulance siren for that song.” That kind of attention to detail fueled the entire production, for which each cast member embodies a character from a band member’s life or The Beatles’ music.
Individual Styles Cirque’s creative team put together a diverse group of performers to showcase a variety of styles, including popping, locking, breaking, boogaloo, contemporary and even a South African dance known as gumboots, in which dancers wear rubber boots and stomp and slap their feet. “The first few weeks of the process, we were all just trying to capture each other’s styles, or at least get a taste of them, because [they] wanted to use everybody’s style in some way,” says contemporary dancer Charlotte O’Dowd.
Creation Director Chantal Tremblay hired Canadian choreographer Dave St-Pierre to unify the dancers’ diverse backgrounds. “Dave’s choreography is emotionally intense, raw and contemporary,” explains Tremblay. The dancers were given freedom in creating their characters, and were encouraged to improvise most, if not all, of their movement. St-Pierre pieced together the moments he enjoyed. “He had a great eye for combining [elements]. But, I’m not going to say it wasn’t frustrating. It was a very difficult process,” says Bolong.
Vegas Bound LOVE required months of tech rehearsals. The cast moved to Vegas in February, and practiced in the 360-degree theater until the show opened in June. The production is extremely involved: There are moving tracks, projections of The Beatles’ shadows (which speak and move across the stage), surround-sound speakers attached to each audience member’s seat, and imaginative costuming by Philippe Guillotel. For instance, Berman wears a picture frame to play a portrait of the Queen. “I’m in a metal circle we call the cameo,” he says. “My costume is a dress, but there’s a really large piece of fabric surrounding me, which is meant to look like the canvas of a painting. The front of my costume is ornate, but the back is an open bustle, representing the raw, unfinished side of a painting.”
Feeling the Love The show moves through The Beatles’ career chronologically, from Beatlemania to the psychedelic ’60s to India (where the band spent time meditating), closing with “All You Need Is Love.” Aerialists soar 90 feet above the audience. Performers create giant smoke-filled bubbles from the top of an open piano. A bed is hoisted into the air while white sheets extend from it to cover the entire crowd. There are trampoline acts, half-pipes for rollerbladers, rows of dangling lights that twinkle during “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and glowing umbrellas that look like jellyfish for the “Octopus’s Garden” number.
“People [in the audience] have tears in their eyes, and they’re singing the songs and recognizing everything,” says Tremblay. But beyond providing an enjoyable experience for Beatles enthusiasts, Cirque performers say the show illustrates a poignant theme. “I was told by a few people that it’s monumental to have a show about love, especially now when there’s so much war,” says Bolong. “I still get choked up going around the audience during ‘All You Need Is Love’ and throwing out a peace sign. I feel lucky to have a job that’s giving out this message of peace and love when there’s so much chaos going on.”