A scene from La Nouba
(© Cirque du Soleil, Orlando)
A scene from La Nouba
(© Cirque du Soleil, Orlando)
You wouldn't think a show with somersaulting bird-men and day-glo spandex-wearing acrobats would be the attraction to bring a touch of class to one of the world's biggest tourist areas, but Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba, nestled at Walt Disney World, manages the perfect combination of the spectacle and sublime. For all the superhuman feats of athleticism, it's always been the artistry of Cirque that sets their productions apart, and this now 10-year-old show is no exception.

Like most Cirque shows, La Nouba is a mish-mash of circus variations elevated by superior performers and sets, and by a sense of playful wonder that the Canadian troupe has all but copyrighted. The audience is introduced by way of a parade to a cast of distinct characters -- the grotesque and lumbering Titan, the puckish Green Bird, the Chaplinesque foursome of "Le Cons" -- who wander in and out of the performances, sometimes providing support or comic relief, sometimes joining in.

There's the barest hint of narrative in the person of a cleaning lady who gets caught up in the antics, but mostly the show is based around a general theme of fantasy. The dreamlike mood is heightened by contrasting the colorful, dancing Cirques against a troupe of "Urbanites" whose monochromatic marching provides a sort of visual rhythm section for the acrobats' riffing.

And what beautiful music they make. The strengths of La Nouba's shifting stage are highlighted early by a pair of twins who work within their German Wheels, six-and-a-half foot metal hoops that they ride within, spinning like coins across platforms that suddenly elevate beneath them. Another early favorite is the four young girls who manipulate their Chinese yo-yos in a set of increasingly jaw-dropping throws and catches.

What makes all these performances stand out beside the obvious skill of the athletes is the staging. Each of the acts is framed like a painting; and nowhere is the sense of beauty more evident than in an aerial ballet performed on a set of flowing red curtains that drape down from the rafters. Even feats that might seem otherwise mundane by comparison are given their own surreal place in the memory, such as a precise "aerial cradle" performed by a man and woman on the frame of a floating door. More deliberate performances like these are placed with due care toward the otherwise frantic atmosphere. (A lingering high-wire act is the only segment that slows the pacing even slightly.)

Throughout the show, all these flights of fancy are soundtracked capably by a live band, one of the many finer touches you're liable to miss on first viewing. But have no fear - no one will walk out of this show feeling like they've missed a thing.