The stage in Cirque du Soleil’s newest touring show, OVO, is covered with creepy, crawly things: an entire colony of insects, to be exact. Costume designer Liz Vandal used textured, painted fabrics to fashion the legs, wings, antennae, and bodies of these anthropomorphic creatures as embodied by Cirque du Soleil performers.
One of the central characters is the cricket. “The quantity of them is impressive,” says Vandal, noting there are often 10 on stage at the same time. “Their legs represent a metaphor for jumping, even though they are actually walking or dancing, and they are the closest to the reality of the actual insect.”
The crickets’ legs, which are attached to the performers at the belt and ankle and have an internal pulley system to facilitate their movement, are actually detachable for the acrobatic numbers. “We didn’t want them to have to change their costumes,” Vandal explains, noting that the first layer is a leotard, close to the body for stretch, then built upon using what she refers to as “organic origami,” or permanently pleated fabric, much of which has been plastic-coated for a “hard shell look,” like the carapace of these arthropods.
Another denizen of this insectarium is the mosquito, recognizable by his multiple black-and-white striped legs. “His legs are long and elegant, divided into sections where they fold, and the red stick on his head is for the straw a mosquito uses to draw blood,” says Vandal. The mosquito’s face is painted red and white, and a good example of the decision not to use masks. “There is a different energy when you can see their faces,” Vandal points out. “We made the harder decision not to use masks but rather implicate the look of the insects with face painting. We wanted to evoke the insects, not imitate them. We looked at the beauty of the way the insects are designed.”
All of the costumes have to be functional as well as fanciful, so that they work throughout the show. The mosquito arrives on stilts, and the spider leaves its web, yet nothing affects the integrity of the costumes. “We didn’t want anything to interfere with the magical quality of the show,” Vandal adds.