Insects Take Center Stage at Cirque du Soleil OVO
By Ryan Gott, Ph.D.
Cirque du Soleil OVO is filled with frenetic energy, enlivening song, and comedic interludes that will entertain the whole family. But entomologists especially will appreciate the underlying beautiful connections to arthropod biology. The cast of spiders, grasshoppers, ants, beetles, flies, dragonflies, moths, and more are inspired renditions of the creatures we love. While I could effuse about every act of this modern circus show, I will try to highlight some of the most entomologically focused.
The premise of the show’s storyline is that a community of insects encounters a strange new bug—I would guess a muscid fly, based only on his coloration and bristles, though I didn’t look closely enough to do any chaetotaxy. This fly hauls in a large avian egg with him (which is where the show gets its name, as “ovo” is egg in Portuguese), and the insects fight over who gets to own and eat the egg. The mimed fights, flatulence, and flirtation among the biodiverse cast divide the acts just as clowns did in the days of Barnum and Bailey. These portions certainly garnered laughs from the audience, but I couldn’t help but feel sad for the fly, who is infatuated with a lady beetle. He is clearly unaware of the futility of interordinal mating and the many prezygotic barriers their love would face.
The first of the skilled acrobatics features hard-working ants performing astounding feats of foot juggling. Oversized models of food like kiwi and corn are effortlessly spun and tossed, clearly evoking the ability of ants to carry items many times their own weight. The mood calms down significantly once the ants retreat back to their nest, and the show turns to a dragonfly surveying his watery domain. Soothing melodies enhance seemingly effortless acts of strength as the performer displays the skill of hand balancing. His smooth movements, flapping his “wings” and upside-down walking and climbing, perfectly conjure memories of watching dragonflies hover and dart over ponds on sultry summer days. Also of note is how many of these acts are accompanied by live singing and music performed by a troupe of cockroaches. Finally, these fantastic insects are presented in the good light they deserve.
The highlight is undoubtedly the high-flying lepidopteran aerial strap performance. This act starts with an acrobat beautifully interpreting the journey of a giant silk moth (Saturniidae) larva through the upheaval of metamorphosis. This is followed by a duo costumed as, naturally, a pair of adult moths. Watching the back and forth of their airborne tumbling and tangling, one cannot help but envision the pheromone-driven mating rituals of so many moths and butterflies. Combined with romantic and almost melancholic music, this was, for me, the most moving act of the show. But, luckily, unlike a real adult giant silk moth, these performers will continue to live for well more than a couple days.
Finally, the biodiversity of this show deserves to be singled out. It would be easy to choose a couple well-known arthropods and stick with them, but OVO goes beyond. Perhaps all of these aren’t consciously intended, but I certainly interpreted them from the fantastic garb of the cast. At least 13 families across nine orders are present: Araneae, Odonata, Orthoptera, Blattodea, Siphonaptera, Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, Diptera (Culicidae and Muscidae), and Coleoptera (Coccinellidae, Buprestidae, Lampyridae, and Scarabaeidae). Prior to the show’s opening, there are also “entomologists” wandering across the arena floor, fully cloaked in beekeeping suits and carrying field notebooks and oversized nets. I admit I may have been the most entertained person in the audience by this.
Cirque du Soleil OVO is a must-see for entomologists. Everyone will find something to appreciate. While the spectacle bills itself as a celebration of motion, I easily found it to rather be a celebration of insects. I hope all who attend OVO will create these connections and remember their delight when they see real insects. Then they will realize that, when you love insects, the show never ends.
Acknowledgments: I would like to deeply thank the folks who contributed toward my ticket to attend OVO. The cost of this endeavor was entirely crowdsourced, and the generosity of others allowed me the best seat in the house.