(February 1, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada) Cirque du Soleil and Criss Angel have done it again! Or should I say that they have re-done it again and again?! I remember coming to Vegas three years ago, when world-famous magician Criss Angel had launched his show, Believe, at the Luxor Hotel. Partly inspired from his TV show and mixing it with the visionary universe of Cirque du Soleil, this was quite a trip. I remember how “transported” and “transformed” I had felt following this show. And so, being back in Vegas last week to see the new rendition, the new “improvement” about Believe, meant I was full of expectation and excitement. Needless to say, I was not let down...
To transport us into a universe beyond anyone’s possible imagination is what Criss Angel does best. He has always pushed the limits of the world of magic, and with this more personal, one-on-one, funnier rendition of his show, leading you to a new magical frontier has been pushed to the far limits of both mind and body. From the moment you step into the theater and are welcomed by a gigantic stage dressed with a red velvet curtain surrounded by enigmatic sculptures, you know that you’re up for something bizarre, straight from The Twilight Zone. And indeed, to enter Criss Angel's world, you do have to surrender your soul and pre-conceived ideas about what a magic show should be. Instead, let the entertainer take you for a one-way wild trip through the wonders of heaven and…hell, and all of that with a big smile, because “humor” is definitely the backbone of the Believe experience.
In this trip into the unknown and the beyond, Criss Angel stars as a surreal, enigmatic Victorian nobleman. Along a path of imaginative exploration, he encounters Kayala and Crimoson -- two women who represent different aspects of feminity -- four bizarre ushers who will introduce the audience to the baroque theater of Criss’s mind, and a high-energy troupe of characters and dancers who mix a multitude of styles into a high-energy visual feast, and with a touch of grace and sensuality. A custom-built theater has been raised from the dead for this live show, and Houdini would be only proud of the magic legacy he had inspired with this grandiose show. Besides, it is known that Houdini, on his deathbed, told his wife: “After my death, many people will claim that they are still able to communicate with me. If their claims are valid, they will be able to tell you a code word - that word is 'Believe.'” During the almost two hours that follow, you will have to fasten your seat-belt and hold on to your stomach to go through the looking glass. You follow that rabbit down his nasty hole of tricks and deceptions until you see, find, and hold to the light at the end of the tunnel, and gain back, somewhat, a sense of sanity, of real life. But what is so real about life? One can only wonder forever after this show, which makes you ponder magical concepts of life and death like you have never done before.
Beyond the charismatic and atomic funny energy of Criss, tricks and props are what make the show so unique. Without revealing any of the magic behind the make-believe, here are few mesmerizing facts:
-The chainsaw that cuts Criss in half has a real blade and has smoke billowing out of it. It is operated by a flying performer. You have seen that trick under another form, but nothing can prepare you for the ultimate Halloween-gory experience under Criss’s mechanized razor.
-The Birth machine and the War machine are two of the major contraptions. They are not static objects -- they move, they spin, they roll, they catch fire, they transform. They are regarded as somewhere between props and puppets. This is what makes this show stand on its own. It is so organic and the result of melting different art forms into one beautiful act of magic.
This new rendition of Believe has many more illusions. Angel’s workload must have been enormous. Some illusions took over a year to put together, such as a five-minute scene in which Criss Angel makes one of his motorcycles suddenly appear onstage.
Believe will, way beyond the final fall of the curtain, remain in memories, because it toys with the reflections of our true nature and our inner worlds, sometimees in conflict with each other. The yin and then yang, always trying to swim the seas of love and hate, life and death, truth and…illusion. For the moment, Believe is the most REAL magic show on the Vegas strip and on Earth. You are teasingly, warmly invited into Criss Angel’s new world! Open wide your mind and heart, and bungee jump with terminal speed into this mad black hole. Don’t be afraid to get lost; at the end, you will find yourself. You will come back from the other side with the secret of the meaning of life. But do watch out for the rabbit! The dude can be a nasty pest at times, and lure you into getting lost, again and again… At the end, one is wondering who is having the last laugh: Criss, the rabbit, or the audience who emerges with a smile as long as a magic rope popping out of the magician’s hat!
As a bonus trick up our sleeve, here is the magician himself, in his own words, as well as Ria Martens, the legendary Artistic Director who worked on this new show with Mr. Angel.
Ria has been with Cirque du Soleil since 1997, and worked at first with Alegria when it toured. In 2004, she landed permanently in Las Vegas and worked at first as an artistic coordinator for Mystère, which followed with a position as Artistic Director for Zumanity. The rest is history, and she recently has taken the helm of Believe with Criss Angel.
Emmanuel Itier: Is this the first time you collaborated with Criss Angel?
Ria Martens: Yes! Not only this is the first time I collaborated with Criss, but this is the first time I collaborated with a headliner, period. It’s the first time Cirque du Soleil has a headliner in a show.
EI: How is it to collaborate with a personality like Criss?
RM: Well, this is my fourth show with Cirque du Soleil. Normally, before I take a show, I make, as an Artistic Director, all the main decisions, and I make it grow. Here I don’t make the decisions by myself. I make them with Criss Angel, and even though he has a strong personality, we have a great relationship and it works. I often propose things to him, or vice versa, and we discuss it and we make the decisions together. Criss has such a great work ethic; he is passionate, and I really enjoy working with him.
EI: Can you explain to us what remains from the original show of Believe and what we have now? What did you bring to the show?
RM: I was there from the creation of the show, but we turned 180 degress around this time, with this version of Believe. We made it more the Criss Angel show than before. You truly see Criss Angel on stage and not a character. It’s him, and he grows and he commands the stage, but by doing so, he has so much fun, and you can tell. Each time he comes up on the stage, he is there 100%, and I can tell. I just help stir and guide him.
Q: It seems like the show was more ‘Cirque du Soleil’ than ‘Criss Angel,’ and now, as you say, it’s turned around 180 degrees. What is the show about for you now?
RM: It’s still Believe, except it’s more about Criss Angel explaining how he believed as a kid he could be the best magician. He still says that at the end of the show: you can do whatever you want in life, if you're young or old -- just believe! That’s basically the message. We see him, during the whole show, do these amazing illusions. So yes, believe in what you want and go for it!! Take risks and go for it.
EI: Tell me about the humor being so important in the show...
RM: Yes, that’s right -- crucial! Criss has a very fun side to his personality; he is very light and humoristic. And this time, he has a good sidekick as well -- Maestro -- to enhance the humor level of the show. Together, they have a great complicity and make wonders. Each time I watch the show, it cracks me up. They improvise sometimes, and it’s out there…
EI: What was the biggest challenge re-inventing Believe?
RM: I had never worked with a headliner or a magic show with so many illusions. It was a huge learning experience for me, to learn about the world of magic and how detail-oriented it is. I learned so much from Criss. It was a learning curve for me to learn from him. And it was, I’m sure, a little bit of a learning experience for him, as Cirque du soleil runs on an operational level in a different way than other companies.
EI: What is your favorite illusion or number?
RM: I love the illusion when he makes birds appear. At the end of that number, he suddenly makes two birds appear from one bird, and this takes my breath away every time I see Criss do this illusion. It still don’t have a clue about how it’s done!
IE: What does magic -- the word -- mean to you?
RM: It means that, with your mind, your whole life can be magic, and you can do anything you want!
EI: What still needs to be done with the show?
RM: The main challenge and novelty will be, every year, to interegate in the show new and bigger illusions, and this is a long process. Also, it’s challenging to guide the performers who work on a Criss Angel show, because it’s different form a regular Cirque du Soleil show. Everything is around Criss. It’s always about pushing the boundaries, the limits…
EI: What would like people to get from this show?
RM: Enjoy the ride, enjoy Criss, and believe that you can do anything you want, like Criss!
EI: How is it going with the show?
Criss Angel: Well, it’s a constant piece of work with lots of constant adjustments to make as we go along. This is always a work in progress. I’m removing things and adding more illusions. I still want to change things around. It’s a very challenging process, and it takes time to understand what you are creating, but I’m really happy with the positive feedback from the audience. And wait a little more and it will be even more spectacular.
EI: What do you believe in these days?
CA: I’m Christian, and my faith has never changed. What I believe in has never changed. I believe in passion, in hard work, and living each day as if it was the last one. I believe in realizing that it’s up to you to do what you want in your life, to make the choices you want to make. Ultimately, I believe in inspiring other people the way I have been inspired in my life to get to this point.
EI: Do you think people don't believe enough in today's world? What do you want people to get from your show?
CA: Entertaining is what I do, and it allows people to escape, for a little while, from their daily life and possible struggles they might have. I make them go somewhere else; I invite them to take a journey. And magic is a journey that allows you to realize that everything is possible if you work hard enough to get what you dream about. I’m living my dream because of hard work. I remember very well, way back when I was younger and living with my mother, how I would get inspired by other magicians to work hard and get to where I wanted to go. So today, I do hope I inspire people with my magic. Actually, this is what makes me the happiest -- when people tell me I inspired them, I help them with their life…
EI: One does notice the word "lie" in "believe." Do you think, somewhat and in some form, a lie resides within or at the origin of any belief system?
CA: As you might know, I came up with this title, “Believe,” by remembering that the widow of Houdini had a secret code word to know if her husband was going to communicate with her or not. Every Halloween, she would invite mediums and other people, to challenge them to make her enter in contact with Houdini. What they didn’t know is that Houdini had told her that if he would enter in contact with her, he would pronounce the word: Believe. Needless to say, 10 years after his death, nobody was able to relay this word to the widow of Houdini. So she stopped the Halloween experiences and knew she couldn’t believe in paranormal and after-life. And indeed, it’s funny to see the word "lie" in the center of "believe." I’m someone who is really ready to believe anything, as long as he can see it, taste it... If not, I’m very skeptical and I doubt a lot. I think, in life, it’s a good lesson; you have to doubt, you have to be careful, because people can take advantage of you because of your faith and what you believe. And in relationships, it’s the same thing. It’s tricky; you have to be careful because it might look like love, but maybe it’s hate and deception. You have to be aware of the yin and the yang -- of the two sides of the coin. Ultimately, you have to be prudent in life, not take anything for granted, and be appreciative of what you have.
EI: Why is the rabbit the magician's best friend?
CA: This is a good question. I’m not sure why the rabbit, because in fact, very few people are doing the trick of making appear a rabbit from a hat. I rarely saw it done. Let’s say that somewhat, after so many years the rabbit has been associated with the hat of the magician, you had to make appear something from the hat… For me and in my show, I’m doing an homage to all the rabbits who fell in the line of duty during magic shows. There are all kinds of rabbits in my show. It’s like the rabbit revenge over the magician.
EI: After all these years doing magic, what does magic mean to you? What do you hope people get from your magic?
CA: For me, it’s still about having the inner child there inside of me. Magic allows me to look at the world like a child, with wonder and possibilities. In the adult world, we have a tendency to stop believing in wonders, in magic, and it’s sad. In a way, we grow up and we learn to stop dreaming, stop imagining. With magic, I’m able to keep dreaming and imagine a wonderful universe, and I do want people to share this sense of wonder, to dare to keep dreaming their life, but eventually wake up and work hard at it as well.
EI: In what sense did the collaboration with Cirque du Soleil bring another layer of wonder to your art and craft?
CA: In a way, without any trick, any illusion, Le Cirque du Soleil created their own brand of magic over the years! Here, in this show, illusion is the centerpiece. I think it’s a different journey for Le Cirque, and we did create a unique universe. I hope people will be surprised and blown away by our various amazing creations and illusions.
EI: What had been your most profound and intense personal revelation and life lesson?
CA: For me, it was to realize that life is not about money; it's not about having more and more stuff, but it’s about the people you live your life with. They are the important things in your life. When I was younger and didn’t have any money, I thought that fortune would solve all my problems. The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t. Actually, the more money you make, the more pressure you have and worries. It’s like losing, in a way, your freedom. But now I’m trying to be very centered and balanced. I’m trying to be very positive, and it’s true that what makes me really happy is to make other people happy. It sounds corny, but it’s the humble truth.
EI: You're someone who truly has re-invented magic, and the Believe show is proof of this. What is the next frontier to get to in the world of magic? What are your limitations, if any?
CA: Thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate them. It’s true that I have made a conscious effort to always re-invent myself, whether with the presentation of a trick you already know or with new illusions. I mean, you have never seen somebody cut in two the way I’m cut in two in Believe; it took me years to perfect this illusion. Also, I always wanted to stay away from the traditional magic show because they are very Vaudeville-like, with some cheesy girl, and piece of puzzle after piece of puzzle. Here I want really that magic is the fabric of an emotional journey I’m inviting you to take. I want to create emotion, to make you “feel.” The trick doesn’t make the magician, but the magician makes the trick. Even so, you’re limited by the six or seven types of tricks. I never want to stop re-inventing myself and pushing the limit. Actually, I don’t feel any limitation. I like to be diverse and work hard, and always figure out a new way to surprise you, to mesmerize you. With me, expect the unexpected! It’s more exiting for me to push my envelope and your envelope.
EI: Houdini had always tried to enter in contact with the beyond. Your show embodies this desire to unite life and death as a perfect couple. What has been your most moving, honest, and true 'contact' with the beyond -- the world of angels and ghosts?
CA: I’m ready to believe in the paranormal, in ghosts, in anything that can be truly shown and proven to me. I even offered, one time, one million dollars to anyone who could put me in “contact” with something from the beyond. But nobody was able to do anything. My father passed away on February 12, 1998, and it was very intense because he died in my arms. It was a dramatic experience, and my faith comforted me, but I had never felt him or saw him coming back. I have never seen a ghost in my entire life, so I have to confess I’m very skeptical about all of this…but if someone can prove me something…I’m always ready to Believe!
Criss Angel's 'Believe' is currently running at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.