‘KÁ’ gets an acrobatic boost from new Icarian Games act

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Courtesy Cirque du Soleil

The new Icarian Games act takes place in the opening sequence of “KA.”

Mon, Jan 13, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Now that Cirque du Soleil has introduced a new type of stunt-based action spectacular to the world with “R.U.N” at Luxor, it seemed like a great time to revisit the company’s other action-packed resident show on the Las Vegas Strip, “KÁ” at MGM Grand. As a bonus, I got to see the newest act in this unique production, a quartet of talented “foot juggling” artists from Ethiopia.

Known as Icarian Games and taking place in the opening scene, these two duos take the stage as the royal family of “KÁ” is being introduced and entertained by demonstrations of martial arts styles Wushu and Brazilian Capoeira. One partner acts as the base, catapulting the other with his hands and feet and creating a fast and furious acrobatic phenomenon that must be seen to be believed.

“We had a pretty aggressive deadline with [the cast] and coaches to not only create the act in ‘KÁ’ but making sure it was the right integration from a storyline perspective,” said Kati Renaud, the show’s senior artistic director, in a video released by Cirque du Soleil. “The beginning of the show has to make sense and it can’t be an act that appears out of nowhere. Obviously it’s a big show to integrate new artists and we want to make sure the artists don’t feel rushed.”

The Icarian Games artists are Ephrem Fekade Demesa, Wondessen Shimeles Abetew, Legese Aba Dida and Biruk Moges Shebru and they’ve known each other and performed together for years.

“They’re all very polished performers. Their acts are very impressive,” said Rob Dawson, the show’s head coach. “We took the skills they did, we mash it to the music, we mash it to the stage and just let them do their thing.”

The act is quite daring for an opening sequence, some truly impressive physical feats that make an exciting impact before the famous scenes in “KÁ” where the one-of-a-kind movable stage creates more magical moments. It’s a great fit and a thrilling new addition to the show.

“It was a proud moment for us welcoming this beautiful act into the show, and it was also a proud moment for them, arriving at the end of August and literally five weeks later premiering into the show,” said Renaud. “It’s a real testament of their work ethic and how we work together as a team, coming together and feeling passionate about making the show better and touching our audiences.”

The action in “KÁ,” which originally opened in 2004, is very different from the new “R.U.N” show, which moves at a nonstop, rapid pace. The big scenes in “KÁ” are heightened by the constant back-and-forth in the plot, peaks and valleys of unbelievable, cinematic battles juxtaposed with quiet, intimate moments. My favorites are: when one of the bad guys, the chief archer’s daughter, frees the heroic twin brother and then performs a beautiful baton act, a single small and colorful character alone on a vast, dark stage; and an earlier sequence where four good guys are being pursued and attacked by a group or archers, climbing, flipping and spinning across a stage that’s rotating at a 45-degree angle and using those arrows to play a sort of human Plinko game. It’s easily one of the most remarkable single scenes in the history of shows on the Strip and I could watch it over and over again.

I was recently reminded just how spectacular “KÁ” can be when I spoke with one of the show’s riggers, Andy Schmitz, for a story about his contribution to a local Cirque du Soleil employee art exhibit. He’s always around the show and he’s always in awe.

“Working backstage on it makes it more familiar but I’m also very much amazed at how smoothly it all goes, especially knowing the thousands of small ways it can go wrong,” he said. “It’s a very visual spectacle but all of that is rooted in the artists’ personal virtuosity, and working with them and seeing what they have to do to achieve that level of mastery, which takes a lifetime, they’re so talented and it’s such an honor to work with them.”

“KÁ” is performed at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday through Wednesday at MGM Grand and more information can be found at cirquedusoleil.com.

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