Performance preview: Cirque du Soleil takes on the legacy of Michael Jackson

From the April 17, 2014 edition

When Cirque du Soleil created a show inspired by The King of Pop in 2011 with “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” there was one main goal.

“Essentially I think we all feel responsible for his legacy … It comes down to making sure we honor him. Every single person working on the show has been inspired by his work,” said Artistic Director Michael Smith during a phone interview last week. “His work is so [well-regarded] that he has the ability to affect generations still coming. Even beyond his death is the legacy of what he stood for in the industry.”

No one would argue Jackson’s impact on pop music. But how to incorporate that into a performance that features Jackson’s music (played by musicians who worked with Jackson for decades), his (recorded) voice and signature choreography merged with the high-flying acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil was less precise, more of an evolution.

“Merging those two brands was fantastic,” Smith said. “I think it was a bigger challenge than anybody imagined. I think the show evolved to find that balance; satisfying the different perspectives with Michael and Cirque’s fan base. It’s not been an obvious, easy route, but I think we found it over a period of time.”

Having found the proper balance, “The Immortal World Tour” features 49 international dancers, musicians and acrobats, more than 250 costumes and dozens of massive set pieces (including 5,300 square feet of total video projection surface). The underpinning is Jackson’s music presented in a rock concert format, only accompanied by the visual spectacles Cirque du Soleil is known for.

The litany of Jackson’s hits inspired a bounty of “scenes” featuring dance and acrobatics; a pole dancer for “Dangerous,” boogying mummies for “Thriller” and popping-and-locking b-boys in LED-adorned track suits for “Billie Jean.” A mesmerizing presentation no doubt, which ties right back to Jackson’s legacy.

“Everything was big, everything was exaggerated. If he did something on one tour, it had to be bigger the next time he did it,” Smith said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Photos courtesy OSA Images