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Cirque du Soleil Embraces Arena-Sized "Challenge"

Of the Oakland Press

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Cirque du Soleil has put its performers in all sorts of circumstances over its 23-year history.

They’ve flown in the air and splashed in water. They’ve staged their acrobatics in customized theaters and Big Top-style tents. They’ve been winsome and sexy, and in Las Vegas these days, the Cirque posse is even showing some “LOVE” to the Beatles.

But even by those standards, Victor Pilon says “Delirium” — a touring show designed for arenas — is “a big challenge.”

“It’s big,” says Pilon, 48, who created and co-directs “Delirium” with Michel Lemieux. “Just the fact that it’s going on in an arena is so different. We don’t have a big name like Madonna or U2. So we’re saying, ‘Who’s the star here?’

“It’s the name of Cirque du Soleil. It’s imagination. It’s the creativity we’re offering to the audience, and also incredible performers.” And, Pilon adds, there’s a charge to offer an expe- rience that still hews close to the “very intimate kinds of circumstances” that Cirque du Soleil usually performs in.

“The big debate here is how can we do a big show in an arena and at the same time be intimate and emotional?” he explains. “That was the great challenge.”

“Delirium” was conceived in 2004, when Pilon and Lemieux helped create “Soleil de Minuit,” a large-scale production celebrating Cirque du Soleil’s 20th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. After that, the Montreal-based Cirque’s co-founder, Guy Laliberte, approached the duo about creating a show of similar magnitude that could go on the road and “permit Cirque to go places it’s never been.”

Pilon says he and Lemieux were skeptical at fi rst.

“We were saying, ‘Why do a show of this amplitude?’ ” he recalls. “And then we thought that, well, this is an opportunity to also entertain people and to excite people’s imagination but also to say something which for us is important, and hopefully touch people in this way.”

With its 100-foot-wide stage, 200 feet of video screens, 36 performers and 20 songs, “Delirium” hangs on the story of Bill, who’s seeking a greater connection and humanity than he’s finding in the increasingly cold and virtual world in which he’s living. He embarks on a journey that helps him achieve that desire, then returns to “contaminate” his community with what he learned from his experiences.

“I think a lot of us have experienced that in our lives,” Pilon says. “When you start traveling elsewhere and abroad, hopefully you will open your horizon, and when you go back home, hopefully you’re a better human being.

“I think we need that in the world we live in, to be open and to be more tolerant of different ways of seeing things.”

Similarly, Pilon hopes Cirque du Soleil fans are open to the idea of seeing the concept in a different light with “Delirium” — including having the troupe’s musicians on stage and interacting with the other performers rather than in an orchestra pit and hearing the songs with lyrics rather than the instrumental pieces that dominate most other Cirque works.

“I think the big, hard-core fans are sort of destabilized at the beginning,” he says. “Something like the Big Top is a lot of fun, but these (arena) venues are sometimes very cold and not hospitable.

“So we try to create the magic of Cirque du Soleil in that setting, and I think it’s still there. It takes a while for people who are used to going to the more intimate places to accept it, but I think once the show starts, they let themselves go with it.”

Cirque du Soleil's "Delirium" performs at 8 p.m. tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (Jan. 24, 25 and 27) at the Palace, Lapeer Road east of I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $112.50, $72 and $39.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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