Are circuses and ice stages meant to be together? That question is still up for debate.
Cirque de Soleil gives the marriage a go in Crystal, a loose narrative about a girl who feels trapped in her family life, falls through ice and finds an alternative magical world full of whimsical characters. It’s hard to follow the exact story, but that doesn’t really matter, as Crystal is more about enjoying familiar circus acts recontextualized within a bevy of ice dancers and stunt skaters.
With the transition to ice, there’s no longer the intimate circus tent that the company usually pitches wherever it tours. Crystal is set in the sterile environs of John Cain Arena, with the audience not particularly close to the action and some sightlines obstructed. The cavernous venue is cold in more ways than one and unfortunately, detracts from the overall experience.
Despite this, Crystal harbours some really great moments, especially in Act 2, when circus acts like duets on aerial straps and trapeze unfold from super high rigs and are executed with the top shelf skill you would expect from best-in-the-biz acrobats. A group swing poles routine has human flags flying in sync many, many metres above ground. An ice hockey scenario evolves into a wild obstacle course of daredevil skaters flipping and flying over skateboarding-like ramps, ending Act 1 with the pow that it was previously missing.
Swirls of ensemble ice dancing, ice duets and a clown who milks the humour of snowballs mingle amongst the big-ticket acts. A few characters – Crystal, Crystal’s doppelganger in the fantasy world and Crystal’s family (portrayed wearing blocks of bright colours and engaging in robotic acro-balance routines) – are signposts for the plot.
Three live musicians (accordion, violin, guitar and clarinet) and text voiceovers layer on top of the recorded music. Both Irish riffs and Jazz are big presences in the live offerings. Covers of the songs Halo, Chandelier, and Beautiful Day all feature and accompany showcase aerial acts and the feel-good finale. Like the visuals, the music is a mixed bag of influences and works best when the live musicians are incorporated physically on stage.
Crystal has a lot going on – musically, tonally and physically – throughout its two-hour running time, making it challenging to focus on any particular element.
At Crystal’s core is amazing skill and well-intentioned creativity, but all the elements are yet to crystalize into the full-blown, cohesive spectacle that we’ve come to expect from this global company.
Cirque du Soleil presents
Venue: John Cain Arena | Olympic Blvd, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 17 – 27 August 2023
Tickets: from $76.40