Trying to describe a Cirque du Soleil show is a bit like trying to communicate the exact taste of an exotic fruit or the precise color of a hummingbird's throat.
You may know, for example, that in "Delirium," Cirque du Soleil's first traveling arena show, live performers, dancers and musicians will interact with images on projection screens the size of almost four IMAX screens, or that projectors cast images on every surface in the arena, including the audience.
Or you might know that 21 songs have been culled from the catalog of about 500 tunes played in all the Cirque productions, and, of course, reimagined and refined. In many cases, the imaginary language used in the original songs has been replaced with real lyrics in many languages, mostly English.
But the essential thing -- the swirl of light, sound, gymnastics, dance, colors and song, which in "Delirium" is described as an "urban tribal beat" -- presents a complex, coordinated frenzy of sight and sound that might be interpreted differently by every member of the audience. If that happens, it's fine with the creators of "Delirium," says Renee-Claude Menard, Cirque du Soleil spokeswoman, in a phone interview from the troupe's Montreal headquarters.
"Everyone gets the level they want to," she said. "You can go there, sit down and just take in this fabulous show, or you can go a little deeper to a meaning."
>Bill and the balloon
The storyline of "Delirium" may or may not be grasped by the audience, said Menard -- and that's fine. It's the tale of a man named Bill, who leaves his comfortable life to sail away on a red balloon into the world of imagination. He meets characters along the way who change his life forever.
Carmen Ruest, director of creation for "Delirium," told The News in January, "You will meet different people who are part of his imagination world on the screens -- we call them the dreamers. The actors on stage are interacting with those in the projections, and they are all traveling together in different scenery through 20 tableaux."
"It's a man's quest to try to have a better understanding of a world that is more virtual," Menard said. "So floating around is a symbol of the virtual world, and he wants to come back to earth and get grounded.
"But you know, most people will probably not get that. Bill will be many things to many people, I think. Bill could be a bird for some, Bill could be an angel for others," she said. "So you'll truly do what we do best at Cirque: Let the people make their own interpretation of what they see in the story."
The creators of every Cirque show also reward the observant with hints and winks toward the troupe's past shows.
The stilt-walker who strides through "Delirium," for example, hearkens back to the beginnings of Cirque du Soleil, founded in 1984 "when Guy Laiberte met up with a bunch of street performers, and they took street performance arts, organized them and put them under a big top," said Menard.
The original street performers included musicians, fire-breathers and stilt-walkers -- "And Gilles Ste-Croix [the artistic guide] was one of the original stilt-walkers. So it's quite nice to see a stilt-walker on stage in 2006, 22 years later."
>Songs take center stage
Despite flashes of familiarity, "This arena show is nothing like a big top and nothing like a theater show -- it's really in a league of its own," said Menard.
First, the singers and songs take center stage, she said.
"The audience will hear the music like they've never heard it before. Music plays a very important role in our big-top shows, but it is not the first creative element that you think of," she said, adding that people are dazzled first by acrobatics, dances and costumes. But, Menard said, "Here we said, 'Let's put the music front and center, and how can the other creative elements enhance the creative experience?' "
While traditional Cirque du Soleil shows feature 45 to 55 artists on stage, with 90 percent of those acrobats, Menard said, "Delirium" features 16 dancers onstage and eight acrobats. "So you shift the perspective," she said.
But the live dancers and the musicians, who emerged from behind the scenes for this show, are augmented by the limitless possibilities of what Menard calls "the multimedia experience."
"It's amazing what the screens, and what's projected on those screens, can do," she said. As the "prerecorded, animated and manipulated live images" interact with the music and the live performers, "your eye will go back and forth from the screens to what's on stage to the acrobatic performance," said Menard.
"So that's what's very different about this show."
While the troupe's blue and yellow big tops accommodate up to 2,500 people, "Delirium" will play in arenas that hold many times that number. Menard said the audience may wonder, " 'How are they going to manage to make me feel something, in such a huge venue?' But people will still walk away feeling that we touched them, which is our leitmotif here."
WHAT: Cirque du Soleil: "Delirium"
WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
WHERE: HSBC Arena
TICKETS: $69.50 to $99.50
INFO: www.tickets.com or (888) 223-6000