‘Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour’
Written and directed by Jamie King
Choreography by Travis Payne, Rich Talauega, Tone Talauega, Debra Brown, Napoleon Dumo, Tabitha Dumo, Jamal Sims, Daniel “Cloud” Campos, Tamara Levinson, Mandy Moore
Presented by Cirque du Soleil
RBC Center, Raleigh, NC
March 10, 2012
Cinematic set design, larger-than-life props, breathtaking acrobatics and iconic dance choreography combined to make watching “Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour” a truly magical experience. Animated by Michael’s majestic voice, a mime dressed in glittering white led audience members through an abstract narrative — taking them from Michael’s childhood in the Jackson 5 to his time at the Neverland Ranch, and then on to his megawatt solo career.
While Cirque shows typically include a variety of acrobatic acts, they rarely include as much dancing as is featured in “Michael Jackson.” This performance showcased a variety of dance styles, and did so in a way that was theatrical but never overdone. From a tap duet and a ballet solo in “Dancing Machine,” to African, Spanish, Thai and Georgian dance vocabulary in the show’s “Mega Mix,” the choreography effectively mirrored the worldliness and inclusivity of Michael Jackson’s music. And the dancing didn’t stop there.
Like many of MJ’s concerts and music videos, Cirque’s show featured a wealth of funk styles throughout the evening; popping, locking, breaking, Tutting and waving showed up on several occasions, and MJ’s famous moonwalk was never far behind. The iconic choreographic phrases from videos like “Smooth Criminal” and “Thriller” were also present, and in top form; the lean from “Smooth Criminal” ignited jetpack-like sparks onstage, while the zombie mob in “Thriller” grew to encompass even the live band’s backup singers and trumpeter.
Dancers were creatively used to animate props throughout the show, which added to its enchanted atmosphere. In the show’s first scene, called “Childhood,” dancers created a sentient bronze statue and danced with the mime, played by Mansour Abdessadok; later in the show, dancers brought MJ’s oversized glove and penny loafers to life, and danced to “Beat It.” With the exception of a malfunctioning oversized glowing heart at the beginning of the “Human Nature” section, the show’s props and sets achieved the flawless theatricality that we have grown to expect from Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil alike. But it wasn’t just physical elements that gave the show its “movie magic.”
In addition, the producers’ hyperawareness of audience focus allowed performers, like the hoop artists in “Human Nature,” to seemingly appear out of nowhere during the show. The same awareness of focus made transitions between acts nearly indiscernible; crew members manipulated props in a style as well-choreographed as the show’s dance numbers. And the circus-style numbers were just as well-designed.
Pole dancer Anna Melnikova dazzled the crowd (and a group of male dancers onstage) with her strength, grace and flexibility in “Dangerous,” while contortionist Baaska Enkhbaatar became a bendy creepy-crawly in “Scary Story — Is It Scary.” In addition to these soloists, the show featured aerial strap artists Luba Kazantseva and Igor Zaripov in “Swans — I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” and a virtuosic synchronized tumbling act late in the show. The fearlessness and technical precision that Cirque performers so characteristically display was in full form at the show’s Raleigh performance.
Though until now I have emphasized primarily the movement featured in “Michael Jackson,” it should be noted that the music was impeccable. The show’s Musical Designer Kevin Antunes paired Jackson’s isolated vocal tracks with re-invigorated live musical accompaniment, which was provided by members of Jackson’s own tour band (and a few others) in the Cirque production. In one particularly emotional moment, Michael Jackson was projected at age 9, singing “I’ll Be There” with an incredibly pure and powerful voice, accompanied only by a pianist; I will admit that even I had tears in my eyes.
“Michael Jackson” undoubtedly did justice to the artist that Michael was, and to the legacy that he left behind. Though we can no longer watch the King of Pop perform, this show is definitely the next best thing.