THE RETURN OF THE KING
Cirque de Soleil’s Viva Elvis Hits Vegas
Viva Elvis, the new Cirque de Soleil production hosted at the Aria Hotel and
Resort, brings a new world of modern technology and elite artistry to the earthy,
primal music of The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Overseen by Cirque’s artistic guides, Guy Laliberte and Gilles Ste-Croix, the
$100-million production was written and directed by Vincent Paterson. It follows
Elvis Presley’s life and music, from his poverty-stricken childhood in Tupelo,
Mississippi, to his record-breaking run on the Las Vegas Strip.

Along the way, classic Cirque du Solei elements of acrobatics and stunt
performance blend with original arrangements of Presley songs and dance
numbers — marrying the Canadian company’s artsy, elaborate circus
productions with the classic Americana, rock ‘n’ roll milieu of Graceland’s late
owner and operator.

As with all of Cirque’s more recent productions, a tremendous amount of
engineering and technical advancement went into Viva Elvis. Wired.com was
offered an exclusive backstage tour of this Presley tribute.

To serve up an idea of the backstage machinations, the staging area measures
more than 150 feet from floor to ceiling. The sides and the rear of the stage are
fixed areas, while the center is composed of 16 platforms, separated into 12
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sections that can rise to a height of 10 feet. Depending on the scene, the platforms may at various times in the show support performers, singers, dancers
or set elements. The widest platform measures 18 feet by 80 feet and is raised by four powerful motors 26 feet below the stage.

The most impressive technological achievement in the show might be the automated computer system that moves the massive set pieces designed by Mark
Fisher. Weighing as much as 45 tons, many of the show’s larger backdrops, massive high-def video screens and acrobatic elements would require a small
army to move into position. Even then, the odds that a sea of stagehands could do the moving with any measure of speed or precision are slimmer than a
girl saying no to a date with Presley in 1956.

Also, when you have fearless acrobats flying hither and yon above hidden webs of life-preserving nets beneath the stage, the always-safety-conscious
Cirque engineers need everything onstage to be exactly on point.

So, the producers and designers employed a digital sensor system that reads the position of the sets — employing the torque of powerful rack-and-pinion
engines to slide or elevate the necessary backdrops and props into place.

Stagehands position reflector tubes in key backstage positions. Digital readers locate the reflectors and use them as reference points to position the sets. If
the set is dark for dramatic purposes or obscured by smoke effects, the system “remembers” where those reference points were.

If any moving show element goes as much as 5 mm out of line, the safety cut-offs kick in faster than a hip shimmy, freezing the set. Yes, the show stops in
its blue suede shoes for a bit — but that’s better than an injury to a member of the company.

Viva Elvis is drawing strong crowds, despite the ongoing recession rocking the entertainment capital of the world. It’s contracted for a 10-year run at the
Aria, and tickets start at $100. It’s a safe bet Elvis will not be leaving the building anytime soon.