Cirque’s “Michael Jackson ONE” preview dazzles

Opening night for “Michael Jackson ONE,” the latest creation by production masters Cirque du Soleil, is still more than a month away, but the cast and crew gave a few guests a sneak peek today at what looks to be a stunning production in the works.

The show will open for preview performances on May 23, 2013, and have its official launch on June 29, 2013.

Director Jamie King and Director of Creation Welby Altidor introduced four acts from the show, performed to four specially mastered tracks “Tabloid Junkie,” “Stranger in Moscow,” “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal.”

Altidor estimated that the production is currently about 60 percent complete.

“We’ve had a lot of work on choreography, a lot of work on set and technical,” he said. “Now, in the upcoming weeks, we’ll start to really dig deeper into our light and video aspects.”

But the spirit of King’s creation is already pulsing through the performers, radiating throughout the theater in immersive projected video and jumping off the stage as the dancers and acrobats animate the creator’s dream.

“With Cirque at my side, I’ve been able to express and experience things in new ways, and hopefully you will feel that as well,” King said.

In its complete form, “Michael Jackson ONE” will trace the stories of four friends who are imbued with the spirit of the King of Pop when they each find something that emblemizes his persona: a hat, shoes, glasses and a glove.

Altidor and King described a fantasy in which a person could become extraordinary when he or she comes in contact with a relic of the artist’s life.

“I think you would be given special powers through the energy of Michael — the spirit of Michael,” King said. “Once he anoints you, you can fly.”

In “Tabloid Junkie,” we saw one character find and protect the glove, dodging trench-coated villains and spanning the stage with street-inspired dance. And as “Bad” came to a close, we watched another character discover some of his own inner glory as he donned Michael’s sparkling shoes, which had flown onto the stage. But the cast has not yet revealed how its two other protagonists find their “powers.”

There will be plenty of Cirque du Soleil’s trademark high-flying. “Bad” features giant, stage-wide elastic bands that performers slide down, balance on and bounce off, creating an urban dance-inspired spin on a tightrope act. In the requisite acrobatic silk act, performed to “Stranger in Moscow,” the artist portrays a growing sense of struggle and desperation as he takes bigger and bigger risks and bends into poses that invoke Michael Jackson’s unforgettable dance style.

One of the most striking achievements by the show’s team of 10 choreographers and acrobatic performance designers is a method of movement that creates the impression that dancers and acrobats are moving in slow motion in mid-air. Of the pieces performed in the preview, the feat is most obvious in “Smooth Criminal,” where trenchcoat-clad acrobats tumbling on stage spring high into the air and seem to slow down dramatically before touching the ground and instantly returning to normal time.

A dance stunt featuring Michael Jackson’s signature lean won the biggest cheer in the preview. Six dancers stand stock-straight, in profile, and slowly in unison tilt forward, keeping their heels on the ground, until their bodies are 45 degrees from vertical.

Altidor and King reminded the audience that, true to its title and to the ideals of its namesake, the production will seek to show that we are all “one.” By opening night, Cirque du Soleil and the Michael Jackson estate will have created a new kind of unity — of dance, acrobatics, light and music — that promises to fill us all with a little of Michael’s energy.