Buy a ticket to see a show by Cirque du Soleil and you're expecting flawless performances and top-notch production values. OVO, which premiered in Montreal in 2009 as a big top show and has been touring in its new arena incarnation since 2016, certainly delivers on both.
Inspired by the world of insects, with a live score evocative of writer and director Deborah Colker's native Brazil, it's a supremely polished piece of work. A cast of nearly 50 bend, balance and fly their way through a two-hour show that's rich in ooooh aaaaah moments. Ants foot-juggle giant slices of kiwi, a spider unicycles upsidedown on a swinging slack wire, and a troupe of scarab beetles swing each other hand-to-hand high in the air above the Royal Albert Hall stage.
Liz Vandal's costumes are works of art in their own right, not just beautiful to look at but also serving, in a couple of places, to exalt an otherwise merely impressive performance to something really unusual. Kyle Cragle's 'Dragonfly' handbalancing act is a case in point – the acrobat demonstrates masterful control on the handstand canes but it's the visual effect of the dragonfly wings that adorn his legs that takes this act to the next level.
There's wonderful humour in the physical antics of Sergyi Rysenko's Creatura, a sort of giant slinky that boogies along to the samba-influenced music of composer Berna Ceppas. Elsewhere though, the laughs are sadly lacking, François-Guillaume Leblanc, Gerard Regitschnig and Neiva Nascimento making for a very peculiar trio of bug clowns.
They're capable performers but the comedy is so broad, and the tone so poorly judged – why Colker opted to include a plot line relying on sexual jealousy and objectification of the one named female character is mystifying – that these scenes fall flat. A mimed fight drawing on a piece of brilliant sound design by Jonathan Deans is one of the few instances in which this threesome really entertains.
Aside from these bizarre narrative scenes, the pacing is spot on. Colker, who comes to Cirque du Soleil from the dance world, knows when to keep acts short and sweet and when to let them breathe. Marjorie Nantel's 'Cocoon', a tantalisingly brief aerial performance on silks, segues beautifully into Catherine Audy and Alexis Trudel's 'Butterflies', a flying act that is dizzying to watch.
As always with Cirque du Soleil, it's a joy to see such a large company of acrobats, aerialists and jugglers – not to mention the live band – at the top of their game. If only the story side of things wasn't such a disappointment.