By Caroline Fontein
Action-packed adventure stories don’t just end.
The plot always culminates to an epic battle scene where the characters go up against all odds to defeat evil. Movies like “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Return of the Jedi” and “Matrix Reloaded” are perfect examples. All of these films have impressive battle sequences where the main characters unite to engage in combat. Special effects and computer-generated imagery (CGI) are integrated along the way, adding to the awesomeness.
Envisioning a scene like this in a production show doesn’t seem plausible, but when you have a multimillion-dollar stage and a talented team of artists at your disposal, bringing an epic battle scene to life for a live audience is a nightly occurrence. Anyone who has seen Cirque du Soleil’s “KÀ” at the MGM Grand will know what I’m talking about.
KÀ tells the story of imperial brother and sister twins who are separated after an attack on their palace. Each of the twins embarks on a quest to find one another and regain their home. Before their journey is complete, the twins unite to confront evil in a thrilling battle scene performed on a 50-foot-tall vertical platform located about 20 feet high. The performers’ altered orientation gives the audience an aerial view of the action on stage. At times, the performers change pace, making their actions look like a slow-motion fighting scene from “The Matrix.” It’s an awe-inspiring scene that, until you see it, doesn’t seem like something that could be achieved in live production show.
It’s not just the audience experiencing something surreal. For artists in the act, performing on a vertical platform means being a character in their own video game.
Each artist and harness is attached to one of 15 different cables hanging from the ceiling. The cables are connected to a motor with each cable being dedicated to a specific part of the act. The performers’ hand-held controller is like a joystick for a video game controller. It has a button that activates a motor which pulls each artist up and lowers them down the wall. This enables the artists to jump, flip and twist in the air while they are horizontal. Their gravity-defying moves make them seem more superhero than human. Not only do the performers have to be comfortable with being parallel to the floor, that also have to feel confident about maneuvering at heights up to 70 feet above the ground.
“[The artists] have to be able to go from moving up the wall to moving down the wall to back up the wall really quickly, and each time they have to change direction it’s a complicated maneuver really with their hands,” said Paul Cameron, the “Battle” coach for “KÀ.”
He explained that learning the battle scene includes about two month of training to just get familiar with the controller. Before the artists ever get on the wall they practice controlling their line with a sand bag hanging from it. Watching how the sandbag reacts enables them to practice without putting themselves in a situation where they may not be comfortable at the beginning. After they learn how to operate the controller, then they learn the choreography. That’s the easy part.
Already a highlight in the show, the battle scene was recently changed for the better in combination with the show’s seventh anniversary. The new and improved scene now includes more characters and more realistic fighting.
“At the origin [the fight scene] was more of a geometric structure than a real fight. So I wanted it to be closer to a fight,” said the Artistic Director for “KÀ” Marie-Helene Gagnon.
She also wanted the fight scene to better communicate the show’s plot. “KÀ” is the only Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas with an obvious storyline, but Gagnon wanted the significance of the battle scene to be even clearer to the audience. The new fight scene is lead by the twins. The brother is now the first performer to jump on the platform, reiterating his role as the future king. The scene also includes more performers, emphasizing the relationships between the characters.
“It’s small little images, but they all serve to say, this is the story, this is what happens and this is how it ends up,” said Gagnon.
The change was also inspired by a performance the cast of “KÀ” did for Comic Con in 2011. That event featured the climatic battle scene with projected 3-D graphics on the outside stadium walls at the PETCO Park in San Diego. In doing that, Gagnon and the performers realized new figures, movements and their potential for implementing those elements into the show.
Along with the show’s technology, the artists’ prowess at performing on a vertical platform made upgrading the fight scene an obvious progression. After six years of performing in “KÀ,” the artists were ready to integrate some new moves.
“They’re so aware of their bodies that they were able to increase the level of difficulty of the things that they were doing quite easily,” said Cameron.
He relied on their experience and ideas for how to make the fighting more realistic. The end result is an innovative battle scene that brings even more action and silver-screen worthy effects to the stage for visitors in Vegas.
“[The audience] gets the idea better, that good is going up against the evil, and this is the final showdown. Whereas before, maybe some people thought it wasn’t really a battle and more of a choreographed routine,” said Cameron.