This weekend, the home of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey transforms its rink into a futuristic dreamscape of light, sound and spectacle. If you prefer your aerial acrobatics over ice, head to the Amalie Arena for Cirque du Soleil: Axel, offering multiple shows through Sunday.
Of the 48 productions the Canadian-based Cirque has staged over the past 35 years, Axel is only the second show on ice. Building on the success of the first, 2017’s Crystal, Axel premiered in Ontario just weeks ago — making Tampa among the very first cities to witness the latest offering by the Cirque du Soleil entertainment juggernaut.
“The success of our first creation on ice has reinforced our ambition to further explore the extensive creative possibilities of a frozen playground,” said Daniel Fortin, vice president of creation.
Axel is a young graphic artist and musician who falls in love with the exotic Lei, played by two women with professional competitive skating chops. Let’s just say “Axel” isn’t just the name of the title character. You can expect to see a high level of technical skating above and beyond typical ice show fare.
Of course, as in any compelling story, there are foes to defeat, adorably memorable sidekicks and, ultimately, dreams to realize. As Axel shows us the creative manifestations of his mind and heart, the audience witnesses the expression of his artistic vision by tagging along on a stirring visual and musical journey. Its futuristic bent adds to the fantasy. Think Tron meets Wall-E meets Mulan — and beyond. Way beyond.
The staging conjures up all the wonders we have come to expect from Cirque du Soleil. Typically known as a “circus arts” style show, Cirque changes the playbook a bit with Axel. The emphasis is multimedia, with a more technical, futuristic approach. Utilizing lights and graphics in spectacularly choreographed sequences, the audience is immersed in the world of the title character.
The live orchestra acts as Axel’s backup band, playing an original (and I mean original) score that seamlessly integrates with current rock favorites. The lights and graphics are further integrated into the music, creating an almost concert-like atmosphere.
The supporting cast features a menacing green villain and his henchmen, along with a troupe of Asian warriors to give context to Lei’s character. A lovable puppy-like character steals the show with an uncanny combination of robotics and puppetry. The costumes — a mixture of color, fabric and futuristic robot-like garb — are, per usual, stunning.
Of course, no Cirque show would seem complete without the hallmark acrobatics, and they are on full display in Axel. Aerialists seem to defy the laws of physics (and gravity), as they spin and flip high above the ice. There is futuristic juggling with ropes (you’ll just have to see it) and even skating on stilt-like structures. Bottom line — Axel has it all, and then some.
The precision skating sequences, high-flying feats of derring-do and all the rest combine to evoke the jaw-dropping awe that has come to define the Cirque du Soleil experience.
You even get a moral included in the ticket price. It is: Always remember that your dreams are within reach. That’s a good one.