An arena thriller fusing acrobatics and dance soundtracked to MJ’s biggest hits
A packed Rod Laver Arena glistens with sequined jackets, rhinestone gloves and LED-equipped fedoras. We're in the right clothes all right, but no one is quite sure what to expect at the opening night of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour production.
Five men, also styled in classic Jackson garb, hit the stage – moonwalking, scaling walls and spray-painting a giant mural on the digital screen. This opening number sets the pace for an energetic and wildly unpredictable two hours of dance, acrobatics and video montage.
As a curtain drops, the grand gates to Jackson’s infamous Neverland residence open to reveal a scantily clad ten-piece band. Rather than a narrative that tells the story of Jackson’s life, or a sequential performance of his hits, this is a frenetic variety show that celebrates the essence of Jackson’s celebrity and his distinctive dance style. Think CATS, to the tune of MJ.
For each beloved pop song, the stage is transformed into a befitting world. A film noir video montage precedes ‘Smooth Criminal’, during which men in fedoras scale tall, bendy lamp poles and read illuminated newspapers. For ‘Dancing Machine’, a group of gold-suited ironworkers take to the stage, creating the titular dancing machines and swinging through the air on aerial cables. And for ‘Thriller’, a pack of bats glide down onto a stage that ripples forebodingly with smoke.
There truly is a little bit of everything in this electrifying production: A pole dancer slinks up and down a sky-high pole sans harness (appropriately, to ‘Dangerous’), a contortionist curls her way out of a spell book for ‘Scary Story’, two cloud-swinging swans perform a romantic aerial ballet to ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ and five men tumble across the stage like bouncy balls to 'Scream'.
And things get wacky: Two inexplicable Chinese puppet-style elephants slink through the stage at one point, a one-legged man performs astonishing flips with a pair of crutches and a mime artist fuses some classic MJ popping and blocking into his style. Jackson’s pet chimpanzee Bubbles (or at least some kind of relative) even drops by for a boogie.
The sets are as grand and beautiful as one would expect from a Cirque du Soleil production, utilised to conjure some breathtakingly transcendent moments. As the lights go down and the backdrop becomes a glistening Milky Way, ‘Human Nature’ begins to play. Half a dozen figures launch into the air in suits fitted with hundreds of tiny lights that change colours as the artists twist and turn through the air, creating rainbow-coloured constellations in a night sky.
The show’s highlights are the acrobatic numbers, but at times the production elements such as roving lights, flashing screens and streams of smoke overshadow what the performers are doing on stage, making the choreography seem lackluster by comparison.
Everybody is on their feet for the closing number, a feel good mega-mix of Jackson’s dancier tracks (‘Can You Feel It’, ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’, ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Black or White’). Flags, aerial tricks and dancers in flashing costumes swirl together in a kaleidoscopic climax to this daring, high-energy endeavour from Cirque du Soleil. It's a fitting tribute to Jackson, and one winning fans the world over.