Cirque du Soleil: La Nouba

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(Check out some of our previous adventures with Cirque du Soleil: Dralion, Varekai, and our tour of International Headquarters in Montreal.)

La Nouba was the first Cirque du Soleil show I ever saw. Since I’ve now seen more than 10 different Cirque shows, I guess you could say this is the one that made me a fan. I recently had the chance to see the show again, and it didn’t disappoint.

La Nouba premiered in Orlando in 1998 and was the third resident show created (Mystère and O in Las Vegas were the first two). The theater it calls home (on Downtown Disney’s West Side at the Walt Disney World Resort) was the first freestanding, permanent structure built for Cirque du Soleil, and Walt Disney Imagineering was involved in its design and construction.

Despite what many think, though, La Nouba is not owned or operated by Disney. Downtown Disney is its home, and it’s certainly a major draw to the area, but it’s not part of the larger Walt Disney World Resort. In other words, don’t expect Mickey and Goofy to be part of the highwire act.

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Since this is a resident (as opposed to a traveling) show, the stage, scenery, and effects are naturally more impressive than in other shows. Since the whole shebang doesn’t need to get taken down and moved to a different city every few days, the designers were free to indulge their imaginations and create an immersive performance that dazzles with some good old-fashioned stage magic.

From the first scene, La Nouba is a feast for the eyes. The stage is massive and towers 75 feet over the audience. Elevators are built into the stage floor to deliver performers and provide a bit of visual spice to the show. There are also retractable “doors” built into the stage that reveal trampolines and trap doors.

Towers on either side of the stage and a 60-foot rock structure along the back open up the stage even more and make the entire thing feel even more massive.

(By contrast, check out our backstage tour of Dralion to see how much work is involved with setting up and tearing down a traveling show. There’s a reason they have relatively “simple” stage design.)

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With such an impressively massive space to fill, there is a real danger that the performers on stage could be dwarfed by their surroundings and “disappear.” With that in mind, there’s never a dull moment on stage. This is a 90-minute show without an intermission, and there are always people on stage.

There might be rows of people marching around the stage, small groups of performers lounging along the periphery of the stage, a few people hanging out in the towers or in hidden nooks and crannies of the rock wall, or a group of performers randomly floating through the air.

It’s a very busy show with a very large cast. Surprisingly, much of that cast is relegated to these supporting (space-filling) roles, and they never even have a main act in the show!

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But the main acts are, of course, incredibly entertaining. Unlike other resident shows with jaw-dropping acts that simply couldn’t be replicated in another theater (I’m looking at you,  and O), the acts in La Nouba are mostly traditional circus acts…with the expected Cirque du Soleil flair.

There’s a juggler, a jumprope routine, a flying trapeze, a highwire act, trick cyclists, an aerial ballet, a diabolo routine, and a finale trampoline act to top it all off. The acts in La Nouba could easily be performed on the road in a smaller theater (in fact, many of them do appear in traveling shows), but the spectacle of the stage and setting is what sets this show apart.

And let’s face it, since it’s housed at Walt Disney World, La Nouba will likely be many people’s first (and possibly only) exposure to Cirque du Soleil. With that in mind, it’s certainly a great introduction to what Cirque can do.

La Nouba may not have obvious ambition to shoot for the moon, but it still manages to get there.

If you’re visiting Walt Disney World or are in the Orlando area, I highly recommend an evening with Cirque du Soleil. Tickets are available here. Keep in mind that the theater is dark (i.e., there are no shows) on Sundays and Mondays.

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