Erika Chen in Zarkana
(© Jeremy Daniel)
Erika Chen in Zarkana
(© Jeremy Daniel)
Cirque du Soleil returns to New York this summer -- but don't expect to see the so-called "Grand Chapiteau" looming over Randall's Island. Instead, Canada's premier exporter of awesome acrobatic thrills and extraordinarily colorful costumes is debuting its new $50-million epic, Zarkana, at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, where it will play for three months before moving on to engagements in Spain and Russia.

Cirque co-founder Guy Laliberte says the company was looking for a special space in New York when they received a call from Madison Square Garden. "They said, 'We have one of the most beautiful and largest theatres in the world, why not create a show for Radio City Music Hall?'" he recalls.

So Laliberte and the Cirque team headed to Rockefeller Center. "It all started with meetings on the sidewalk. Once we went inside, and saw this place with such architecture, vast scale, and history, we knew we would have to be inspired," he says. "This is New York. Nothing would do but the very best."

The piece, whose storyline centers on the phantasmagorical world of a lovelorn magician named Zark, will be brought to life via 75 incredibly agile artists and clowns hailing from 15 countries and a crew of 88. The title is said to be a fusion of the words "bizarre" and "arcane," referencing mystery and a secret domain.

To bring the new spectacle to life, Laliberté chose Cirque's veteran director of creation, Line Tremblay, and writer and director François Girard, both of whom spearheaded ZED, Cirque's dazzling resident stage production and permanent installation at Tokyo's Disneyland.

Performers from Zarkana
(© Jeremy Daniel)
Performers from Zarkana
(© Jeremy Daniel)
"For me, circus is the most complete art form," says Tremblay. "It addresses the audience on the visual, emotional, and physical level all at the same time. Zarkana will transport audiences to a world where the boundaries between real and the imaginary are blurred. We're transforming the grandest stage in the world into a world of unreality as only Cirque du Soleil can imagine. It's totally different from anything we've done. Elements will flow through the theater to get in touch and be more intimate with audiences."

Of course, many of Cirque du Soleil's traditional performers will be on hand, such as the clowns who interact with audiences before the show. Meanwhile, spectators will be able to partake in a wide spectrum of acts, including exquisite sand painting by Erika Chen to tennis ball juggling by Maria Choodu, jaw-dropping triple somersaults on a variety of trapezes by a 12-person strong Russian troupe to Ray and Rudy Navas on the famous "Wheel of Death."

Scenically, the show will use a cameo-size video screen and also take full advantage of the Hall's "flying" 90' X 40' LED screen. As usual, music will play a prominent role in the show. Girard describes the score by Nick Littlemore as "an acrobatic rock opera."

"What is Zarkana?" says Laliberte. "In my own simple terms, I'd describe it as circus on steroids."