Cirque du Soleil's 'Iris'

Mar 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Mel Lambert



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image of Cirque du Soleil Iris poster

Oscar-nominated composer and musician Danny Elfman is best known for his complex scores to nearly every film by director and longtime friend Tim Burton; titles have included Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sleepy Hollow and Batman. The one-time leader of the new-wave band Oingo Boingo has also written scores for many other disparate films, such as Spider-Man, Milk, The Wolfman, Terminator Salvation and the upcoming Men in Black III, and is responsible for the themes of TV shows ranging from The Simpsons to Desperate Housewives.

photo of Danny Elfman

Composer Danny Elfman on-site at the Kodak Theatre

Last year, Elfman unveiled his intricate score for Cirque Du Soleil’s latest live show, Iris—A Journey Through the World of Cinema, currently playing at the 3,330-seat Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Calif. The show is scheduled for a 10-year residency that will be interrupted only for the annual Academy Awards ceremony each February. Total production costs for Iris are reported to be close to $100 million, of which some $30 million was spent on converting and outfitting the Kodak Theatre with new amenities, including a multichannel sound system.

“I was first approached by Cirque du Soleil almost three years ago,” Elfman recalls, “but for two of those years there was nothing to see—no overall themes nor set designs. Working off very preliminary sketches supplied by [writer/director/choreographer] Philippe Decouflé, I started to work on small pieces of music that I thought would be suitable for the show. Iris is about the early world of cinema—the silent era, in which abstract imagery was highly expressive. My music, like a traditional film score, was intended to capture the rhythm of that highly formative era and form a continuity between the various acrobatic sequences and the larger dance-based sequences, while supporting the show’s love story. Early on, Philippe wanted me to keep the score very abstract, and in support of the moving images we see on the stage. His influences included works by the painter Francis Bacon and [French cinema pioneers] Louis and Auguste Lumière and Georges Méliès.”

As the show gradually took form, Elfman focused on a dozen pieces. “I then traveled to Cirque du Soleil’s headquarters in Montreal,” he says, “where I saw the in-progress show, with looped two-minute pieces of my early music. It became a highly iterative process, with my rewriting pieces to better match the final staged sequences. Each ensemble had different needs, in terms of pace and dimensionality. There are a number of performance styles within Iris, ranging from acrobats and tumblers to trampoline and trapeze acts; I needed to cover a wide gamut of motion and theatricality.”

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