Aria theater transformation under way for Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Zarkana’ in Vegas

In less than two weeks this stage will be ready for the artists in "Zarkana" to start rehearsing.

The theater at Aria is undergoing a transformation. In less than a month it will be home to Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana.” From February 2010 through August 2012, the theater was home to Cirque’s “Viva Elvis.” Rehearsals for “Zarkana” don’t start until about the second week of October, but until then there’s plenty of action taking place in the theater. Cirque du Soleil gave media outlets a sneak peek at the show’s progress at a press event this week.

Right now the operation and production teams – about 125 people – are unloading stage pieces and building the show’s immaculate set. It’s hard to believe that in less than two weeks that area is going to be ready for artists to start getting acclimated to their new home at Aria at CityCenter.

Before settling in Vegas, “Zarkana” was a touring production. It debuted at Radio City Music Hall in New York in June 2011. From there it traveled to Madrid, Moscow and back to New York in the summer of 2012. “Zarkana” started as an extended-length production with an intermission. When it returned to New York, “Zarkana” was condensed to 90 minutes without an intermission. That version is what will debut in Vegas in November.

The show’s intricate set traveled to Vegas in about 65 trailers. When it moved to Madrid, it took four 747 jets to transport “Zarkana’s” massive set over the Atlantic Ocean. With about 1,800 seats, Aria is the most intimate venue that the show has called home. Despite that, the show’s production and operations teams are working to create “Zarkana’s” largest production to date.

The show’s production manager Robert Lemoine explained that there are several new parameters being implemented into the show in Vegas. One of the primary changes with the show at Aria is the high-wire rigging. Since Aria’s theater doesn’t have the same orchestra pit that was designed for the show at Radio City, the production team developed a different rig system that they’re premiering at Aria.

“It’s one of the biggest trapeze rigs in the world that we’re putting in here,” said Lemoine.

Because of Aria’s modest theater size, compared to Radio City’s almost 6,000-seat showroom, guests who see Zarkana in Vegas will be even more immersed in the fantastical world of Cirque du Soleil that at other venues.

“It’s the most intimate of all venues we’ve been in, and it’s the biggest version that we’re playing here in Vegas. So I think with the mix of both, I’m very eager to see this come to life and to have people at this proximity, in this theater, get the show,” said Lemoine.

One of the mysterious and beautiful characters in Cirque du Soleil's "Zarkana."

The Vegas version of “Zarkana” also includes some changes to the show’s original music and multimedia elements.  Some of the most outstanding special effects in this show are its use of projected images and LED screens. The staging features multiple layers of these effects to create what at first looks like a deteriorated, abandoned theater that slowly comes back to life as the show progresses.

“It’s highly acrobatic inside of a very technological setting. But, the set design has a classic signature to it,” said Lemoine.

Zarkana tells the story of Zark, a magician who has lost his powers and his love and goes on a quest to find both. His journey leads him to an abandoned theater filled with a collection of mysterious characters.

Before that happens, Lemoine explained the show’s timeline until its first preview performance on Nov. 1:

Week of Oct. 7: Zarkana’s physical structure is in place. Lemoine and his team meet with the designers to program most of the images, lights, sound, multimedia and make sure that all of the props and scenic elements are in place and that the automation is running properly.

Week of Oct. 14: The artists get on stage, test out and get acclimated to each of their systems at the new theater. From the trapeze artists to the performers on the wheel of death, they all make sure that their systems and their acts and environments are comfortable and operating properly.

Week of Oct. 21: The performers start staging and rehearsal with the director up until dress rehearsal on Oct. 31.

It’s amazing how all the various teams and cast members will work together over the next few weeks to create what’s sure to be another amazing Cirque show on the Las Vegas Strip.