Cirque du soleil promises to wow Academy Awards viewers

Cirque du soleil promises to wow Academy Awards viewers
In this undated image released by AMPAS, aerialists, acrobats and contortionists from Cirque du Soleil are shown in Los Angeles. The three-minute performance at the Oscars on Feb. 26 will feature more than 50 artists. (AP Photo/AMPAS, Darren Decker)
by: Canadian Press
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MONTREAL — Will Cirque du soleil get funnyman Billy Crystal onto a trapeze when he hosts the Oscars on Sunday night?

You'll have to tune in to find out. The Cirque isn't saying.

"We've had fun with Billy Crystal," says a discreet Yasmine Khalil, the Cirque's special events director.

"We had different conversations. We discussed participating, helping him out with some of his opening segments but in the end I can't really tell you what's going to happen."

But she's promising the Cirque will deliver when it takes the stage for its segment: "It's going to be a great three-minute show."

It's also a completion of a circle started a decade ago with the Cirque's first appearance at Hollywood's biggest night.

The Cirque performance at the 2002 Oscars helped fuel its international success which eventually included snagging a base at the Kodak Theatre -- home to the Oscars. It was there that this year's Oscar producers saw the Cirque's movie-tribute "Iris" show and were prompted to book them again.

Academy Awards show producers Don Mischer and Brian Grazer approached the Montreal-headquartered Cirque back in November. The producers wanted to bring "something different" to Sunday's broadcast.

Crystal was on board too, having loved "Iris," the Cirque's regular show at the Kodak Theatre. "Iris" is the Cirque's take on the world of cinema.

Khalil, who called the invitation "a big honour," said one interesting twist is that the current producers didn't realize the Cirque had performed at the 2002 Oscars.

"It was interesting to be invited back to the table and really independently of what we had done 10 years ago... Probably they had just really been impressed with what they had seen at 'Iris'."

Khalil said the Cirque is used to pressure but the Oscars are a "huge challenge."

"It's like a premiere night but we don't get a second take," she explained.

The Cirque sells about 15 million tickets worldwide annually for its shows. In comparison, the Oscars usually reel in around 50 million worldwide viewers in one night.

"That in itself puts on a lot of pressure," Khalil said. "It's pretty impressive to think that this specific performance is going to have four times as many viewers as we can reach in one year with our shows."

TV presents its own unique set of challenges for the circus troupe, which usually plays to live audiences in tents or theatres. Everything for Sunday's show is being calculated for how TV cameras will capture each image.

Time is another factor.

"We want to tell a story in that three minutes," Khalil said, explaining that the concept imagined by Cirque creative director Jean-Francois Bouchard celebrates the movie theatre experience.

The performers will attempt to capture the nostalgia of going to the movies in bygone days when it was a big event and people dressed up in their finest clothes.

But they'll also infuse that experience with the Cirque's trademark high-flying acrobats, colourful characters and evocative dance.

"It's a challenge in three minutes and we hope we convey that great feeling of what it was like to go see the movies," Khalil said.

The Cirque is no stranger to challenges at the Oscars. The last time it participated, the world was still reeling from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, which prompted a more subdued ceremony.

As well, the Cirque wasn't as widely known as it is today and didn't have its current logistical prowess.

"We had to pick artists from our different shows," she said. "We actually shut down all of our different shows that day 10 years ago so we could maximize the number of artists and support staff to go pull it off."

Khalil said the Cirque learned from that experience that it could handle the requirements of TV. It also created its special-events division to handle the flood of requests for shows that followed the Oscars.

The Cirque moves out of the Kodak Theatre when the Oscars are held, but this year has its "Iris" cast and crew available for the Academy Awards performance.

Acrobats were also enlisted from "Zarkana," the Cirque's show in Russia, as well as the "Viva Elvis" show in Las Vegas. There will be 54 performers, including five Canadians, involved in the Oscar show.

Danny Elfman, who composed the music for "Iris," will also do the music for the Oscar performance. He is known for composing a slew of movie and TV themes, including the one for "Desperate Housewives" and the moody score for 1989's "Batman."

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