Cirque du Soleil
Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012 | 3:59 p.m.
Moving Cirque du Soleil’s new show “Zarkana” to Aria at MGM’s CityCenter from New York’s Radio City Music Hall in time for the Nov. 1 preview is one of the largest logistical challenges the entertainment company has ever faced.
It took 88 trucks and giant containers to move the acrobatic rock experience into its sell-out Manhattan venue, and when the Cirque spectacular played Madrid and Moscow, that took four 747s and 18 air freighters.
Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana
The first truck for Las Vegas was packed up over Labor Day Weekend with the performers’ cases. David Dovell, operations production manager for “Zarkana,” told me on a backstage tour in New York last week: “It will take until Sept. 15 to pack up the rest of the show. “Viva Elvis” will be all moved out of Aria in time for our trucks to start arriving and setting up as of Sept. 24.”
The final performance of “Elvis” was last Friday, and “Zarkana” ended its N.Y. limited engagement Saturday. Cirque describes Zarkana as “a visual vortex set in a twisted musical and acrobatic fantasy universe where, little by little, chaos and craziness give way to a true celebration. It blends circus arts with the surreal to create a world where physical virtuosity rubs shoulders with the strange.”
Here’s a YouTube video of when the “Zarkana” cast appeared on “America’s Got Talent” this past Independence Day.
Zarkana on America’s Got Talent
As our Editor at Large John Katsilometes concluded: “It’s Cirque’s greatest-hits package.”
David is no stranger to what awaits him upon arrival on the Strip: “It presents its own challenges going in. I was fortunate enough to be in Las Vegas in 2005 when we did ‘Love’ and the construction of the building there at the Mirage. I returned from the Tokyo Cirque show and actually built the Aria theater. We’re really excited about ‘Zarkana’ coming in -- such a wonderful show. It’s been a great opportunity here in New York at Radio City, Madrid was phenomenal, and Moscow was just a sensation. Now we’re ready to rock Vegas.
“We started gearing up for the move last month; it’s that much. This was the largest show ever to load into Radio City, which is the world’s largest indoor theater, so you now know what to expect in Vegas. Whenever we first showed up to off load 88 trucks, they just looked at us like, ‘You can’t do it. It hasn’t been done.’ And I said, ‘Well, we get that it hasn’t been done, but it’s kind of what we do with things that haven’t been done.’ So we started last month doing the booking, the trucks, the transport in Plainfield, N.J. We have about 80,000 square feet of storage that holds our road cases and racks. It all had to be prepped, lined up and put in the truck fleet.
“In theory, we have two versions of this show, and we have to keep it all together. So, it’s been the largest logistics move in Cirque du Soleil history: trucking into Montreal, trucking to Madrid, some going to England to be repaired. The actual total is 94, but 86 or 87 will go to Vegas. The first thing that leaves us is our luggage truck with all of the artists’ luggage and gear. That was set to depart New York for Vegas on Saturday night right after the curtain came down for the final N.Y. show so the cast can get a month’s break at their homes.
“Some of the trucks will roll to Vegas together and some the instant they are packed up. We split it up because there are a lot of construction aspects that need to happen at Aria. We have prioritized what was needed in Vegas, so there’s a lot of gear that will truck immediately. We truck some to Jersey to sort through the loads there. But because we aren’t going into unknown territory in Vegas, where we have strong backing with our resident shows division, a lot of stuff will just be trucked right out to Vegas where we have other warehouses just off the Strip.
“We have a master book of blue prints on how we move it and what we do. We know that it takes 48 hours to load our deck out. It will take 115 union personnel to load us out. We have 22 that will go on the road and then another 13 awaiting in Vegas, plus more from Montreal headquarters.
“ ‘Zarkana’ is my priority, it’s our crew’s priority. The opening in November is our priority, but Paul Reims and his whole Aria team have their priority getting ‘Viva Elvis’ out and then loading ‘Zarkana’ in. So it will be a 100-plus crew waiting for us at Aria. That’s where Montreal comes in. It’s all packed in such a way that they know exactly what needs to happen for the permitting purposes for Clark County and all that administrative work.
David explained that the first case, now en route, contains all the tools of the show, then comes the chain motors and trust systems. That tech grid will be the first equipment installed at Aria. “That’s what makes a Cirque show possible to move. That’s where the acrobats load, that’s the key and the heart of the show.”
“It’s the most expensive show in Cirque’s history to move. It takes a lot to move something like this. My greatest fear is losing something in the move. But coming to Aria will be a cakewalk compared to moving it into the Kremlin Palace theater. Everything will be in Vegas on Sept. 24 ready to move in, and I know we will have our first previews on Nov. 1.
“Vegas is such a great place to be where our crews understand us, people understand us. It was difficult everywhere we went other than Radio City. We started off with only 17 full-time employees touring this, but year one these guys were just beat up. So we had to grow. Our training standards are the best in the world for our technicians, our riggers and automation. So a lot of the crew guys that left Vegas, because a lot of them were there with me at the time of ‘Love,’ came out here for ‘Zarkana,’ and now they will be going back.
“In all, we’re moving 100 tons. The tech grid itself is 54 tons. The orchestra lift is 26 tons. The thing that’s different with ‘Zarkana’ is that it really is an acrobatic show. Guy Laliberte (Cirque’s founder) wanted acrobatics that rocked to music. That was a challenge on the production side, and thus overall the most unique and difficult has been the whole tech-grid atmosphere.
“It’s a dynamic load that shifts at the highest point of the building, and with 68 hanging points, you never know where that trapeze act is going. That whole structure moves. We have computers that monitor the loads; that’s our spinal chord of that whole operation, that structure. By far that’s the most difficult.”
He summed up for me: “It’s sad to see ‘Elvis’ go, but I’m very excited bringing ‘Zarkana’ and the new Michael Jackson show in and creating jobs. It’s wonderful. It’s going to be good. ‘Zarkana’ is a wonderful show. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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