During Cirque du Soleil's "Delirium" Monday at HSBC Arena, one hardly knew where to look.
Over there was a stilt-walker dancing with the ease of someone born with 10-foot-long legs; at the ends of the stage, two huge screens flashed scenes that supplemented the action on stage -- or presented haunting, seemingly unrelated images; and over it all floated Bill, a sad, yearning figure wearing business pants, shirt and vest who resembled a young Kevin Kline.
That's not to mention the dancers and musicians, all incredibly muscular and some barely clothed, cavorting and contorting; the flying figures wearing fanciful curled, shimmering, elongated costumes; and the elfin boy, his hair gelled into a point, who pranced around the stage.
But to enumerate the characters -- or even to marvel at how a man suspended from a 15-foot-tall balloon who never speaks a word could so effectively embody alienation and disappointment -- is to miss the real star of the show.
As promised, in "Delirium," center stage is held by the music -- 20 songs culled from Cirque's oeuvre and reimagined.
Along with pop and rock, there's African music, performed by men in robes as a dancer performs a full-body shimmy and sway. There are Latin American rhythms, and perhaps it's a tribute to the near-sensory overload we've already experienced that a blond begowned singer and several couples tangoing enthusiastically and acrobatically seemed to be a lull. It isn't until another singer clinging to a set of gold rings is pulled from an opening in the floor and her dress is unfurled to become a volcano, a screen for wild patterns, colors and activity, and finally a tent, with dancers in extravagant headdresses gamboling underneath it, that our hunger for spectacle is satisfied.
Some of the best moments of "Delirium" had the audience shaking their heads in wonder at the fantastic developments. Balloon-man Bill floated, first apparently tethered by his shoulders, then later from his waist, until a wave was projected onto the stage. Then he spun, exactly like a person would when battered by a wave, and as the projected water filled the area, he began to swim, gracefully and perfectly.
Another sequence turned vertical scrims into projected doors in black and white, and it was difficult not to miss a joke, an allusion or an image as the doors began to open, first showing people peering out, then colossal faces. Then things began to get strange.
Parts of this sequence were slightly disturbing, as some of the figures appeared to be screaming or otherwise perturbed. But it was hilarious when several of them, wearing underclothes, let the doors close behind them. Locked out, they pounded on the doors and finally they opened. Whew! But who hasn't had that dream? And many scenes had a dream quality, as if the troupe were showing us symbolic images from the common human experience.
Despite the emphasis on the music, classic Cirque acts surfaced. Three acrobats performed spidery, sinuous movements in long loops of fabric, falling and being caught, climbing and suspending by a hand, a foot, the waist, while limbs moved in every direction. A fabric pyramid became a stage for a man who raised himself on one hand, then lay sideways, supporting himself with a single hand, casually.
Four strong handstanders formed a pyramid near the end, and Bill untethered himself from the balloon and reappeared in a hamster-wheel contraption. It seemed like a downgrade to me, but Bill was OK with it, I think.
Singer-songwriter Nitza lit up a high-energy 20-minute opening act, combining haunting rhythms and vocals with sensuous moves.
"Delirium" repeats tonight at 8 p.m. at HSBC Arena. Tickets are $69.50 to $99.50 at www.tickets.com, or call (888) 223-6000.
Cirque du Soleil: Delirium
Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Repeats at 8 p.m. today