This year, we got to walk backstage at "O," the aquatic spectacle at the Bellagio. And, we were so glad we did. The sheer size of the O theatre makes it their own world within the resort. And, it is actually the original heart of the place. Construction started a year before work began on the Bellagio itself, so the theatre would be ready in time for opening night.
Our deeply knowledgeable tour guide was the show's technical director, David Chabira. We walked behind the sets, through all the backstage areas, wardrobe, the green room for performers (they had a football betting contest going on!), the training areas and up to the control rooms, way up in the gods. Like all Cirque shows, it's a shifting, mechanical marvel. One where complex mechanics try not to overstate the human element of the show. Or, do harm.
Safety is job one. The underwater set is filled with emergence brakes (a rope alert like on a bus), divers and touch sensitive winches and lifts. So, no squished folks. The hydraulics are filled with vegetable oil so if they leak they don't pollute the water and performers. They even have to regulate the number of water bubbles. Too much and it can cause a visual vertigo for swimmers.
The 1.5 million gallons of water is much less chlorinated than the average hotel pool, but is still a slow toxic eroder on costumes and equipment. When Steve Wynn was first presented with the concept he wanted to make sure his resort didn't smell like a swimming pool.
From behind the stage, the stage is very imposing. High divers are launched into 15 feet of water below. The ceiling rigging is so high above your head. In each aspect of Cirque, the enormity of scale never fails to impress.
Performers need to warm up before each show, keep themselves in tip-top shape and wait their turn to rehearse on the actual set. Individual elements rehearse at different scheduled times during the week. The two training rooms help them work on smaller elements of their craft.
As with other Cirque shows, casts of performers' heads are made and each suit and head-piece is exactly tailored to the individual. All costumes are designed with movement and safety in mind. Anything that inhibits movement can be the difference between art and accident.
Upstairs, way upstairs, is the control room nerve center, with the second best view in the house. (We're overly partial to the view staring right at the audience.) Lots of buttons, TV screens, fader boards, buttons and cool-as-cucumber staff micro-managing the show. And, buttons. Five of them for "rain cannons." We'd have only guessed three. You learn so much.
Up here is a very small, special seating area for guests. Each Cirque staffer receives only four free tickets to the show per year. But, it allows guests to watch the show from this vantage point. If you'd like to take the the "O" tour, you can. It's been a sort of open-secret for a couple of years. Your visit might be slightly different from ours as this is a working set and areas need to be blocked off. But, for $260 (which includes the tour, a primo seat ticket and some souvenirs), the Insider Access tour is waiting for you. For a serious Cirque fan, we think it's a very nice addition to your vacation.
A side perk of Cirque Week is some of the novelty souvenirs you receive and we've surely hit a high peak in Cirque tchotchkes. A vial of "O" pool water. The star of the show, in pocket form and cooler than it's usual 88 degrees. We think if we find the right scientists we could tap into some of the DNA hidden in these bottles and clone an army of future Cirque performers. With the amount of valuable technical information they share with you on these tours, we'll be ready with a rival show in only twenty years.
Editor's Note: VegasChatter received media access to Cirque Week, however, our opinions remain our own.