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Desert Companion

Entertainment: 'Performers Actually Hit One Another'

R.U.N is an intense, action-driven departure from the Cirque du Soleil formula

You walk from the Luxor box office onto a movie set, passing the steaming crashed car with the still-blinking taillight amid sirens and street sounds. The graffiti-lined corridor leading to your seat may remind you of Disneyland’s immersive “hide the line” distractions. But this show R.U.N you are headed in to see?

“Disney wouldn’t create a show like this,” says director Michael Schwandt.

Cirque du Soleil is usually close to Disney in its audience appeal. But not this time. R.U.N trades in the pastel leotards and dreamlike acrobatics for costumes and action that are more, well … “We use the word ‘gritty’ a lot, but that’s a good descriptor for a lot of elements in the show,” Schwandt says. “Some of the scenes are intense.”

R.U.N does have valid comparisons to theme-park stunt shows, such as the long-running WaterWorld at Universal Studios Hollywood.  It pursues what creators call “a graphic novel aesthetic,” to bring a comic book tone to the stage, complete with superimposed word balloons. But it’s not branded to a movie or comic-book franchise, even as it draws inspiration from Sin City, the film by Robert Rodriguez, a R.U.N writer. And it isn’t recommended for young children. “Aesthetically, our fights aren’t superhero fights,” Schwandt says. “People do get knocked out onstage and don’t get back up. It’s just a different tone altogether.”

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R.U.N marks Cirque’s return to the Strip in a big way, after the recession and corporate changes at the Montreal-based company left Las Vegas with an imported show, Zarkana, in 2012 and the more modestly budgeted Michael Jackson: One in 2013. The big gamble here is giving R.U.N an original story, completely bucking the prebranded drift of both Hollywood and Broadway. But it is Cirque’s most exciting creative risk in Las Vegas since in 2004, in terms of pushing live performance into a new hybrid of theater that’s hard to even name.

“We’re putting on a movie,” says production designer Bruce Rodgers. Friends tell him they “feel like they’re in a filmic experience.”

That effect is partly achieved by turning the theater’s side walls into a scaffolded “superstructure” covered by a scrim, allowing a switch from 240-degree film projections to views of live performers on the sets. “When you get a sense of scale of these sidewall projections, and how intricate and engineered these systems are behind it, you’re really hit in the face with just how far Cirque is willing to go to blow people’s minds,” Rodgers says.

Cirque fans will see at least two more departures from past formula: The motorcycle jumps, guys set on fire, and martial-arts battles are part of a linear story, with Rodriguez in full Sin City mode as text and narrated “inner monologue” projects onto scrims in front of the action: “Bride: The plan went straight to hell.” And the extended-chase mayhem — erupting from a wedding gone awry — unfolds in a near-future underground more resembling the cult-movie The Warriors than the fantasy realm of .

“Everything in the show has to be scripted and choreographed, because there are no (circus) acts,” Schwandt says. Moreover, the fights and high falls have to be designed for repeatability. “You’re not looking at it through a camera lens, so the stunts have to be believable from a full scope of vision ... There’s a lot of positive contact, where the performers actually do hit one another to make it seem believable.”

It’s telling that Schwandt and Rodgers have more credits in special events and concert touring than traditional theater. Rodgers is working on his 14th Super Bowl halftime show.

“We’re doing some things in here that no one has done before,” he says. When R.U.N pulls off its coup de grace, combining projection mapping and live performance to create a car and motorcycle chase through the desert, “I think it’s going to make everybody stand up and applaud.”

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