By Chris Korotky

The distinctive smell of show theatre popcorn permeated the hall from 100 feet away as I approached the box office for Cirque du Soleils production of Mystere at Treasure Island hotel in Las Vegas. This would be my first show back of any kind since the start of the pandemic. So many thoughts and questions raced through my mind in the hours leading up to the moment I’d anticipated for months. Would the performance be of the same caliber after more than a year of being dark? Would the artists be performing their world-class, daredevil skills after such a long layoff? Would the audience members be wearing masks? Would it be an all-new experience or would it feel like old times?

Walking up toward the venue, a step-and-repeat banner the likes of which celebrities would walk at a movie premiere greeted guests at the entrance. A long line for that perfect photo op stretched the entire entrance area as guests waited for their Hollywood moment. As the crowd made their way into the venue, I noticed strangers striking up conversations, appearing more like lifelong friends as they expressed their excitement to be back at a show again. Like me, this was their first venture back to a live event. So many smiles. So much laughter. And the show hadn’t even started yet.

Back to the Beginning

In an instant, I was back to where it all started. My passion for Cirque du Soleil ignited at this exact venue, years ago. Mystere was the first Cirque show I had ever seen. Although I’m not a huge fan of the expression, I have to say that moment was ‘life-changing.’ So many great experiences with family, close friends, and work colleagues have since centered around Cirque experiences. In the days since that first show, so many friends have gone on to perform, coach, and cast for the world renowned company and I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the journey with them. I’ve been to premieres, anniversary celebrations and wrap parties. We’ve interviewed countless artists for the pages of our magazines. And so many memories that I hadn’t thought of for years came flooding back into my mind as I walked up to the theatre again. In particular, my mind rewound to what I felt the very first time I saw this show. I so distinctly remember that as the audience members around me arose to their feet for a standing ovation that night, I just remained seated. I was trying to wrap my mind around the incredible spectacle I had just witnessed – a production like no other. A production that completely transported me for ninety minutes to a whole new world. An immersive experience where the Japanese Taiko drums summon you in at the start of the show and awe-inspiring acts keep you on the edge of your seat. At the end of that first ever experience, I knew my mind had just been opened to something brand new and I couldn’t wait for more. 

Opening Night Feels

Now back in 2021, after a pandemic that took so much from us, I was back to a familiar place that brought so much joy, and with an all-new appreciation. It almost had the feel of a premiere – the rush of excitement for seeing something for the first time, and not knowing quite what to expect. As I passed the concession stand on the way to my seat, I couldn’t resist that popcorn. But as I made my way to my seat, I’d soon find I was too excited to even eat it! I wanted to take in every element within that multi-million dollar theatre. It was as if I was seeing it for the first time – everything a little more colorful and all the nuances more bold. Once again, I was struck by the excitement in the air.

I had read that performances initially may not have as many ‘animation’ moments – when performers interact with audience members. But 10 minutes before showtime, the familiar comedic character entered the audience area for the pre-show antics. Audience members responded with robust laughter and one kid even yelled out, “That was funny!” also delighting the crowd. It was as if the audience was one. (Some of the later animation segments were altered to not bring audience members on stage as before, but the replacement segments were just as entertaining.)

For my seat, I selected one of my favorite vantage points, front center Section 103, Row D. The “house” seats that offer a better viewing area are actually a little further back in the venue so that you get a full panoramic view of the aerial events. But for me, I particularly like seeing the expressions of the performers from a more up-close vantage point.

As everyone settled into their seats, a ventriloquist puppeteer walked on stage to give the audience a welcome The usual monologue that I can now recite was exactly the same, with one exception. “After a long delay, intermission is over,” the character exclaimed to thunderous applause and cheers from the audience.

From that moment on, I was once again transported for 90 minutes to that magical place that only Cirque can deliver. And although I wasn’t even thinking about it, because I was immersed in the experience, all those questions that had been on my mind were answered, and with a punctuation mark. 

The high-caliber performance standard that Cirque du Soleil has set over the years was in full effect. I sometimes judge a performance by how many times I exclaim, “Wow!” without initially realizing I’m actually saying it out loud and not just in my head! And I had at least a dozen of those Wow moments over the course of the night, mesmerized by gravity-defying-artists, intriguing characters, hypnotizing music and an atmosphere that completely envelops you.

Reflections

Walking out of the theatre, I reflected on just how powerful the arts are for the mind, heart and soul. And I was reminded of the power of a collective experience. I’m thankful for the artists themselves, who literally perform hundreds of times a year, but pour their hearts into every single performance to make it look as though it’s their first time – so each audience gets that goosebump-inducing experience. I appreciate, now more than ever, a shared experience and the energy that gives the room, and also gives back to the performers. My night with Mystere was actually just like old times – an incredibly high caliber, moving, immersive experience that transports like no other. What’s new is the perspective, from every angle, that I think gives live performances a new depth of meaning and feeling. Pure joy. 

Coming Soon – Performer’s Perspective

We catch up with a Cirque du Soleil performer who’s back with his original production, but with an all new role and an all new viewpoint. 

Photos by Matt Beard, Julie Aucoin

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