Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Echo’ immerses us in emotion way beyond awe

The virtuoso circus acts are as breathtaking as ever, but here they remind us that trust, cooperation, and support are crucial to coexistence.

Fans of Cirque du Soleil already know that whenever they go they will be enthralled by the company’s signature blend of thrilling circus acts with dazzling design, evocative themes, soaring music, and loose narratives about phantasmagoric characters in surreal worlds. First-timers will be blown away. Cirque’s artful spectacles leave audiences agog. That’s what happens. No one exits unawed. There’s always more to marvel at than one’s brain can contain.

Louana Seclet-Monchot as Future with animal ensemble in ‘Echo.’ Photo by Jean-François Savaria. Costumes by Nicolas Vaudelet.

Last year around this time, the Montreal-based entertainment juggernaut came to town with Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities, and prior to that, Volta (summer 2019), Crystal (winter 2018), and Luzia (spring 2018). Echo, which just kicked off its North American tour in Tysons, is Cirque’s 20th Big Top tent show and its first production to premiere post-COVID.

Anyone wondering how Cirque can possibly top what it’s already done — anyone wondering what dimension Cirque can tap into to create a new and moving audience experience — will be not be disappointed. Quite simply and quite beautifully, Echo touches emotions way beyond awe.

The title is a charming pun on eco, short for ecology. The theme is the symbiotic bond between humans and the animal kingdom. The show begins with calming music, almost meditative. The central character is an inquisitive young woman named Future, who with her faithful companion Dog explores a wide world of wonder that theatrically plays our precious, precarious planet. Future (flame-red-haired Louana Seclet-Monchot) and Dog (Philippe Dupuis in a head mask) wear outfits the color of clouds and sky; his is a suit with lapels, hers is a scout’s overall shorts. They nuzzle and they romp. Together — like a live-action synecdoche for cross-species connection — they invite us into affinity with other sentient life.

The stage set centers on a colossal cube that pivots and hovers and transforms before our eyes into a dance wall, an animated video screen, a Rubik-like puzzle, and an acrobatic apparatus. A technological marvel designed by Es Devlin, who is also credited with the original idea for Echo, the cube can light up with images of the globe’s altered weather and imperiled creatures from sea, sky, and land.

TOP: Vertical ballet of animals on the cube; BOTTOM: Philippe Dupuis as Dog with other creatures in ‘Echo.’ Photos by Jean-François Savaria. Costumes by Nicolas Vaudelet.

As if dancing on the brink of an ecological delicate balance, there is a recurring ensemble of performers in animal head masks — a rhino, a deer, a lion, and more — who do a vertical ballet on the cube as it twirls. They are costumed all in white as if constructed out of crumpled paper, and when they fill the stage bopping and jiving, accompanied by black-clad and -antlered musicians, something transcendent transpires: a “Circle of Life” vibe, only with omens of nature that humans have made disposable.

As is characteristic of Cirque, the circus acts are breathtaking and jaw-dropping — equipment-less flinging and catching, triple teeterboard bounding, a duo flying in the air hung from their hair, another duo somersaulting on slackwires — the kinesthetic surprises go on and on. But this time the virtuoso acts seem to mean more: they become gentle reminders of how crucial to coexistence are trust, cooperation, and support. Says the genius author and director of the show, Mukhtar Omar Sharif: “Echo is about connecting everybody together, and working together to create the world we want to live in. It’s not just a concept. It’s something I truly believe in.”

TOP: Acrobatics by the Color Paper People; BOTTOM: Clement Malin and Caio Sorana as Double Trouble clowns in ‘Echo.’ Photos by Jean-François Savaria. Costumes by Nicolas Vaudelet.

Even the clowns are playful extensions of the theme. There are sight gags aplenty including one involving two bowler-hatted guys named Double Trouble (Clement Malin and Caio Sorana) trying to stack a tent-high pile of cardboard boxes without toppling. I could hear children squealing with delight (“Watch out!”). And the entire audience got into the act as clowns sent marshmallowy soft cubes surfing among them.

At first glance, the costume aesthetic seems toned down from previous Cirque shows, but its incremental significance is fascinating: Designer Nicolas Vaudelet has the animals all in white while the humans’ white togs are dipped in bright colors. And the cut of the costumes is derivative of outfits people wear every day, like suits, vests, long coats, and jackets —  which, atypical for Cirque, makes all the creatures readily relatable.

And that, after all, is the point of this astonishing immersion in empathy — an emotion that, as Echo enjoyably reminds us, we could use a little more of.

Running Time: Two hours and 5 minutes including a 25-minute intermission.

Echo plays through October 22, 2022, under the Big Top at Lerner Town Square at Tysons II, 8025 Galleria Drive, Tysons, VA. Tickets (starting at $35) are available online. For booking assistance call (877) 924-7783.

The program for Echo, optimized for mobile, is online here.

COVID Safety: Cirque du Soleil’s Commitment to Safety statement is here.

(Note: The flames shown in this preview are not used in the production at Tysons.)

Author-Director– Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar
Creation Director – Chantal Tremblay

Original Idea – Es Devlin
Production Director – Serge Côté
Costume Designer – Nicolas Vaudelet
Set and Props Designer – Es Devlin
Co-Composers – Jade Pybus Et Andy Theakstone
Co-Composer and Music Arrangements – Hugo Montecristo Music Consultant And Music Arrangements – Thierry Angers
Sound Designer – Jacques Boucher
Lighting Designer – Martin Labrecque
Projection Designer – Jérôme Delapierre
Human Performance Designer – Daniel Cola
Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer – Jaque Paquin
Acrobatic Choreographer – John Cartin
Movement Choreographer – Andrew Skeels
Make-Up Designer – Julio Cesar Da Silveira
Production Technical Director – Christian Laflamme

Future, Character – Louana Seclet-Monchot (France)
The Dog, Character & Juggling – Philippe Dupuis (Canada)
The Cartographer, Character – Piotr Kopacz (Poland)
Double Trouble, Manipulation – Clement Malin (France) & Caio Sorana (Italy)
The Fossorial, Contortion & Dislocation – Shakirudeen Alade (UK)
Slackwire – Taras Hoi (Ukraine) & Antino Pansa (French Guiana)
Hair Suspension – Charlotte O’Sullivan (Canada) & Penelope Elena Scheidler (Austria)
Icarian Games – Robel Mezgebe Weldemikael & Meareg Hishe Mehari (Ethiopia)
Banquine/Human Cradle – Taye Gebeyehu Yemam (Leader), Sammy Mededu Mohammed, Yared Wolde Chraga, Asnake Shimelis Dinberu, Abel Matiyas Disasa, Teka Bacha Debele, Abeselom Demeke Kebede, Bruktawit Lijalem Wondiyfraw, Hayder Nuredin Badeg, Getaw Mamo Tekeda, Getnet Feleke Ayele (Ethiopia)
Flying Poles – Lucas Coelho Costa (Brazil), Neal Courter (USA), Ethan Lottman (USA),
Ivan Tushnov (Russia), Iana Lebedeva (Russia), Denis Degtyarev (Russia), Lucas Matias Suarez (Argentina)
Teeterboards – Aleksandr Zebrov (Russia), Thomas Leask (Australia), Campbell Clarke (Australia), Joseph Mcadam (UK), Cooper Ayton (Australia), Luan De Souza Vieira Pretko (Brazil), Daniel Alejandro Aguilar Briceno (Mexico), Alexey Ozerov (Kazakhstan), Sergey Ozerov (Kazakhstan), Fidel Lancaster-Cole (Australia)
Backup Future, Character – Evelyne Lamontagne (Canada)
Diablo – Peng Chan (Taiwan)
Band Leader – Michael Lieberman (USA)
Female Voice – Edyta Krzemien (Poland)
Male Voice + Keyboards – Jonathan Stombres (USA)
Cello + Vocals – Lizzy Munson (Canada)
Violin + Vocals – Anna Follia Jordan (Spain)
Percussion + Vocals – Agata Kruszewska (Poland)

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John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg. Member, American Theatre Critics Association.


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