Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ovo’ celebrates the world’s creepy crawlies with beauty and breathtaking skill

A confession: I’ve a debilitating fear of spiders. Like, when one crosses my path, it’s all I can do to avoid screaming and tearing up. The result is me breaking into a cold sweat and becoming very still (such as the case a few weekends ago at Lincoln Park Zoo when I entered the African Safari house and realized that not only was there a spider exhibit right in front of me, but there was no barrier between me and the freakishly HUGE arachnids– the critters were just hanging out there in front of people! Barf.)

So, when I got a pair of last-minute press tickets last night to Cirque du Soleil’s new touring show, Ovo, I got essited. Aside from the schlock that was Banana Shpeel, which I’ve mostly forgotten, this was to be my very first Cirque experience. However, when I arrived and learned the show was a celebration of creepy crawlies, I turned nervous. I envisioned performers in spider costumes crawling amongst the crowd — or worse yet, dangling over our heads and such — and that’s just disgusting and unnecessary.

Unfortunately, there are performers as spiders in Ovo. Fortunately, they are such exquisite artists, even an arachnophobe such as myself becomes instantly fascinated by the Quebecian contortionist as she angles her limbs to resemble a white widow (if there even is such a thing) scurrying around her spidernest. (While also folding herself in half. On one leg. Backwards.)

Ovo is a  family friendly spectacle, filled with color, humor and buggy beauty. They’ve erected a giant tent in the United Center’s parking lot. It’s a huge venue with teensy little seats, so go on a diet before you attend. But the effort is well worth it: from the jaw-dropping aerialist duo in the first act to the bouncing grasshoppers on trampolines that serve as the rousing grand finale, this is one amazing night out. Director Deborah Colker also fits in some stunning transitional moments, including a performer high above the stage who emerges from a cocoon as a butterfly, and flies away. The live band, flanking the back of the organic-inspired stage, keeps the pulse going.

As with Shpeel, the slapsticky clown buffoonery just didn’t do anything for me. But I get it: it’s part of the Cirque charm. I’m also not sure what a giant bird egg, which serves as a key clown plot point, has to do with bugs? I guess it’s back to science class for me.

I will also say my friends who’ve seen a few of these things noted that Ovo was just “alright” when comparing previous Cirque productions. But for this Cirque virgin, I was bitten by the bug.

A warning: eat and drink at home. while the lobby offers many great “Ovo”-themed gifts and souvenirs, food and beverage are outrageously overpriced. $5 for a stale hotdog and $8 for a bottle of beer? Come on!

“Ovo” plays through August 21 at the United Center, 1901 W. Madison St. More info here >

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