If you’ve ever seen a Cirque de Soleil show, you know it’s usually a thrilling, hold-your-breath combination of acrobatics, costumes and music. Now take that, add ice and you’ve got their latest show, "Axel."
Axel (currently on tour) takes place in an ice rink, so all the usual death-defying aerial stunts are done on and high above unforgiving ice, which makes it extra heart-pounding. Beyond the acrobatic stunts, the performers incorporate classic figure skating technique -- jumps, ice dancing and spins add another layer on top of an already spectacular show.
The story, which is loosely told through movement and music, stars a rocker named Axel. He sings, he draws and he plays the guitar, all while on skates. He falls in love with the mysterious Lei who’s both graceful and powerful. They fight with the villainous Vi for a light, each backed by an army of skaters who can breakdance as well as fight using martial arts.
One of the best elements of the show is simply the ice and how it is used. Not only do the performers move across it, but it becomes a blank canvas that video is projected onto to paint a colorful set. In one moment, it’s a race track with mini cars zooming around and the next moment it’s a giant sketch pad showing Axel’s drawings. Because it’s just a projection, it can change quickly and set the next scene.
The other unique feature of Axel is the live music. Axel sings popular songs such as Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” and “Creep” by Radiohead, as well as original songs like the peppy “Hero of the Day.” Axel sings live and is backed by a full band of live musicians, including percussionists and guitarists that each get a moment to shine in the spotlight. This really gives the show more of a concert vibe than just purely a physically acrobatic show.
“For Cirque du Soleil 'AXEL,' we were inspired by the feeling of arena concerts,” said Patricia Ruel, Creative Director. “With Axel as the singer, popular songs, lights, laser and video effects fueling the high-flying ice-skating and acrobatics, we created an atmosphere that catalyzes energy and excitement.”
The costumes and the makeup are stunning, too, but the skilled performers really are the backbone of the show, bringing all the elements together. Many of the performers have unique talents, whether it’s Olympic-level figure skating, spinning down the silks high above the rink, or balancing on a ladder over a dozen feet tall. The show gives them all room to breathe, with plenty of high-stakes action to keep everyone on the edge of their seat.
In its 25th year, the Canadian circus company really takes their already-arresting live entertainment to a new level of awe. People of all ages will enjoy this show. With the tech-inspired elements appealing to kids and tweens, including a robotic skating dog who plays fetch with the audience before the show, to the sheer poetic artistry of the skating that older audience members really embrace, it’s a really great show for whole families to enjoy. Be sure to catch it before it melts away to a fever dream.