Hot Ice: Crystal by Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil brought its first show on ice, the stunning Crystal, to Frisco’s Coamerica Center this weekend.

by Amy Martin
published Tuesday, June 18, 2019 / Photos: Matt Beard for Cirque du Soleil

Frisco — The merger of Cirque du Soleil acrobatics with ice skating to create Crystal might inspire grumbles of Disney on Ice imitation for the kids’ market. That would be a mistake. It’s far too poetic and romantic for that. Yet there’s no lack of spectacle for the non-contemplative. Surprisingly entertaining for lovers of modern dance. Techno lovers will appreciate the abundant use of video projects on the scenic backdrop and ice floor.

Crystal ran for one weekend at the Comerica Center in Frisco.

Instead of the familiar Cirque story of a plucky hero or heroine overcoming odds to literally soar, Crystal is more interior. Its female lead named Crystal (of course) wrestles with deep doubt and an unruly subconscious. It motivates her to break through an ice layer and plunge downward into her active interior world where she is driven to transform by Reflection, her challenging shadow side. 

The Shadows

A portrait emerges of an independent and artistic teen who — feeling repressed by social expectations and thwarted in her creative ambitions — is causing mild trouble at school and home. While the heroine’s transformative journey is the focus, Crystal’s star is the Shadows, a chaotic yet purposeful hooded ensemble that represents her conflicted subconscious. (Even if you have to push the Clockwork Orange gang menace out of your mind first.) They synchronize skate and perform a wide array of at times charmingly weird acrobatics, holding the show together.

Extreme skaters

Crystal aced the challenge of finding top-tier acrobats who could become superb ice skaters, and top-tier ice skaters that were willing to be floated, toted, contorted, and otherwise tossed around. Even the musicians skate. At one point Crystal (who is serially embodied by three performers who ace figure skating, aerial trapeze and straps) does high-wire aerial trapeze twists, flips and balance poses wearing sharp bladed ice skates — while swinging!

A few moments created by co-directors Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila are breathtakingly beautiful:

Reflection descends from the rafters perfectly straight upside down with one leg cocked, evoking the descent of Odin for the runes of knowledge. Taking the offered pen, Crystal writes a new reality for herself while a skating clarinetist performs. As she moves, video projections make her skates appear to write black lines of text on the ice. A celebration of creativity. 

In another self-duet and evocation of parallel worlds, Crystal performs aerial trapeze on skates as Reflection knocks out a stunningly passionate solo on the ice floor below.

After seeking a romantic partner from conventional ice dancers in ballroom mode in a yawner of a number, Crystal looks from a different perspective and spies her ideal hunk of a fella — think Idris Elba with extreme grace — descending on aerial straps. The impossible pas de deux moves fluidly between aerial and skating, as the couple bonds and separates, approaches and chases, gives and receives. All done to a version of Beyoncé’s heart-opening “Halo.”

Ground and aerial pas de deux 

Crystal has enough splashy acrobatic showstoppers to entertain the short-attention spanned, enveloping the ice floor in multi levels of moving bodies. Set pieces include:

Extreme skaters (think Olympic snowboarders on ice) cast as amateur hockey players zoom down one and two-story ramps set in the LED-lit ice boulder and cave backdrop. Covering the ice and crossing paths at high speeds, they launch high up, spin and do tricks, then land at high velocity. The now-confident Crystal — sporting a crowd-pleasing Dallas Stars jersey — interacts with the boys at play.

Ratcheting up the classic banquine act up a couple of levels, pairs of large strength acrobats use their joined hands (“baskets”) to launch their more petite cohorts who execute all kinds of crazy maneuvers as they cross. The acrobats creatively join sections to form two-stories tall wavering poles for more extreme launching and landing.

Reflection’s solo

Yet some of the most jaw-dropping acts were dance numbers in the European style theatrical dance-driven storytelling blended with spoken text. Influenced by the modern ballet of William Forsythe, spectacular ensembles of precision skaters move at great speed en masse, often carrying or sliding props. Oodles of modernity.

Representing the straight-laced world Crystal wants to avoid, in one number the skating Businesspeople — men and women in business suits who carry their briefcases like soldiers on drill — bedevil Crystal who seeks to escape. Later four of the business skaters, who are almost as omnipresent as the Shadows, return and challenge each other in a skating tap-dance slam, a whole lot of flash made flashier by the soundscape from mics in their skates.

Dance and acrobatics merge perfectly in another business-themed number. As Crystal in an ice cave types her story, skaters trapped at tables set with clanging typewriters break free with pizazz and transport their chairs to a central area. An acrobat of steely nerves climbs and balances atop an ever-growing stack of office chairs until it’s three-stories tall. He finishes it off with impossible strength and balance moves.  

Crystal is a rare general Cirque show that integrates pop hits (sung by Quebec artists) into the signature techno-gypsy sound. U2’s “Beautiful Day” was especially effective in the all-hands-on-ice finale. But the little ones definitely shouldn’t be listening too close to Sia’s “Chandelier” or parents will have to explain what “for a good time call” means. 

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