Are we insects or are we dancers?

“I was always fascinated by insects since I was a child. I would go into my backyard and look under rocks, to see what the insects were doing,” says costumer Liz Vandal, whose first assignment for Cirque du Soleil is Ovo, a show about the insect universe.

The touring production of Ovo comes to the Big Top Tent just north of the Santa Monica Pier, opening Jan. 20. The show is slated to run through March 20, during which Cirque's resident show in town, Iris, will take a break from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre before resuming performances there after the Oscars.

“I educated myself on how useful the insects were,” Vandal explains. “I wanted to know how they survived, and I grew to understand how without humans, the world would be better” for insects.

Vandal says Ovo's first challenge was to “evoke” the world of insects from their point of view, trying to imagine, say, what a spider looks like to other spiders. “This was a challenge because that's not the way we think, and knowing insects the way I did, of course I wanted to put on wings and antennae. Then sometimes I chose not to. How do you evoke a cockroach? Being human, you say, uuugggh, they're so ugly, but if you're a cockroach, you say, 'Hey, look at the abdomen on that guy.' ”

The other challenge, she says, was keeping dancers comfortable. She's been costuming dancers for 20 years, and says the costume must enhance the dancer but not bother him. Her costumes are built on Lycra foundations onto which she layered polyester.

Still, a concern was raised about trying to make it a “green” show, one that uses only natural fibers. “Then we realized that natural fibers would break easily, so it was 'greener' to use synthetics, and polyesters permitted us to print on them and add on all these textures,” she says. “It may not be chic, but polyester is the key.”

Polyester typically makes dancers sweat, so the dancers instead wear a layer of Lycra to protect the skin, and the decorative polyester is only “in sections on top of the Lycra,” Vandal says. She adds that the word “insect” comes from the Greek insecta, which means sections.

“This show made me fall in love with them all over again,” she says. “I grew to become a complete groupie of insects.” —Steven Leigh Morris

OVO | Presented by Cirque du Soleil | The Big Top Tent, on the north side of the Santa Monica Pier | Jan. 20-March 20 |

LA Weekly