KÀ by Cirque du Soleil
At a Glance
What is it?
A stunningly visual and often emotional Cirque du Soleil production featuring martial arts and a story about siblings separated by war who must come together to defeat evil.
Where is it?
In a custom-built theater at MGM Grand on the South Strip.
Is it worth the cost?
Without a doubt. This is one of the best shows in Vegas.
Why should I see this show?
Because you won’t believe your eyes.
What else do I need to know?
They offer a free open house on Tuesdays at 11am to see how the production is pulled together.
What’s the bottom line?
I’ll say it again: one of the best shows in Vegas.
I know what you’re thinking: “there are too many Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas.”
Maybe, if they were all as ground-breaking, mind-blowing, and visually stunning as KÀ, the production at the MGM Grand, it totally wouldn’t matter how many there are.
You’ll get a sense that this is a different kind of Cirque du Soleil as soon as you enter the theater. Dramatic multi-level catwalks jut out into, around, and above the audience space, serving to draw the viewers into the action, which begins even before the non-existent curtain rises. As with most Cirque productions you should get there early so you can catch the “pre-show,” in this case a group of aerial performers doing wire work around the catwalks as the audience members take their seats.
The second thing you’ll notice is the absence of an actual stage. Instead of a floor (or a pool for that matter), there is giant, empty space – a pit emitting smoke and the occasional burst of fire hot enough to be felt twenty rows back.
But the most important difference between KÀ and other Cirque productions is the story. Yes, there’s an actual, linear storyline as opposed to the traditional series of aerial and human strength acts tied together by performance art pieces that usually leave the audience visually stimulated but scratching their heads going “huh?”
KÀ tells the story of twins – a boy and a girl – separated by war between two tribes in what appears to be ancient China, who must find their way back to each other with the assistance of family, friends, strangers, enemies, and a few animals for good measure. Despite the fact the story is told completely without dialogue – at least no dialogue in any real language – the twins’ journey and the dangers awaiting them are easy to understand yet still retain that visually arresting Cirque style viewers have come to expect.
Central to that style in this particular production is the remarkable staging conceit: instead of a traditional stage, the performers act out the story on a giant 50’x25′ floating platform that can be raised or lowered, spun 360 degrees, or turned on it’s side or end to create a five story vertical wall. Other hydraulically operated platforms come in from the sides or the back to create an almost limitless series of sets, from a village square to a sandy beach to a sheer mountain face to an apocalyptic factory and beyond.
The overall style of the piece in both tone and story appears to be influenced by Chinese martial arts films. If you’ve seen “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hero,” or “House of Flying Daggers” you’ll recognize the touches throughout in epic sword battles, sneak bow and arrow attacks, and high-flying choreography.
The story begins as the twins arrive on a barge – the platform floating up – and take part in their village’s pageant of martial arts. Suddenly the village comes under attack from a tribe of Archers and Spearsmen, separating the siblings.
The Twin Sister (as she is referred to in the credits) and several fellow villagers escape to a boat that sinks in stormy seas then find themselves washed ashore on a strange beach where crabs, centipedes, and starfish (costumed performers) pop up to frighten and amuse. Read that sentence again – sinking boats, underwater struggles, surf and sand – and realize this is not a movie, but a live stage production. The boat, for instance, is a specially designed, 1800 pound structure that rocks and rotates violently in the storm, with all the motion provided solely by the artists on board. Reminding yourself this is happening before your eyes is something you’ll have to do throughout KÀ as the visuals evoke the setting in ways that leave you struggling to comprehend as anything other than magical.
The Twin Brother is spirited away by a protector who connects with the boy in a virtuoso display of shadow puppetry, displayed in giant form on the staging platform, now turned on its side.
Meanwhile the Twin Sister and her comrades are discovered by the Archers and Spearsmen and must flee up a “cliff” – the platform tilted and canted at a steep angle. As arrows and spears appear to narrowly miss our heroes and imbed themselves in the “rock,” the performers use these pegs sticking out of the platform to stage a dramatic ballet of sorts, sliding, falling, and swinging across the face of the “cliff” without the aid of any harnesses or wires.
The Twin Sister manages to escape and is rescued, briefly, by a mountain tribe but the Archers and Spearsmen are not far behind. The girl has to escape in a man-powered flying device resembling a giant bird that floats off the top of the “mountain” and swoops out over the audience.
The whole thing leads to an epic battle between the two sides done on the staging platform as it stands on its end, a sheer vertical wall that the performers appear to walk and fight upon standing upright. It’s as if we, the audience, is viewing the battlefield from high above, with all of the soaring aerial work and swordplay done in defiance of silly things like gravity.
That scene was cut from the production for more than a year after a performer accidentally fell to her death in June of 2013. It has been put back into the show as of late 2014.
In between are evil henchmen, a romance or two, lessons about war and peace, family, and friendship. It’s all told with the kind of visual flair and dramatic acrobatic set pieces people expect from the geniuses at Cirque du Soleil.
The show is not perfect. Some of the “storyline” scenes seem to drag on a little, leaving audiences itching for the next big fight or aerial bit of derring-do. But when the whole thing wraps up it’s the epic but sweet tale of these two twins that sticks with you just as much as the “how did they do that?” questions you will inevitably be asking yourself.
Lots of people, including myself, have wondered if the city has Cirque saturation. So long as they keep doing shows as well as KÀ, a masterpiece of storytelling, staging, performance, and production, they can have as many in Las Vegas as they want.
Note: The production values are so impressive that you’ll want to consider going to their weekly “Open House,” where they give you a behind-the-scenes look at how the show is done. It happens on Tuesdays at 11am and is free with no advance tickets required – just show up at the theater.