Gay Travel: End of Summer Sizzles in Las Vegas, Nevada

Image via Zarkana

Image via Zarkana

Our fearless Contributing Editor Jim Gladstone shares with us an exciting way to finish off our summers—Vegas style!

Two of Las Vegas’ biggest annual LGBT events have joined forces to heat up early September on the Strip. So it’s not too late to book one last gay getaway to cap off your summer. MGM Resorts’ annual Fabulous Las Vegas programming, which has taken place in July during past years, has been moved to September 3-8 this year, to coincide with the community-based Las Vegas Pride festival on September 6 and 7.

Among the week’s highlights—following in the stiletto-heeled footsteps of the Sydney Mardi Gras parade—is one of the only illuminated nighttime Pride Parades in the United States, on Friday, September 6, from 8 to 10 p.m. Paradegoers taking advantage of discounted room rates at MGM’s properties ($72 and up) will get free shuttle service to and from the parade, and a reserved prime viewing area with complimentary cocktails.

Entertainment offerings during Pride weekend include LGBT favorites Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffith and deep discounts and special seating areas at seven different Cirque du Soleil productions—including the new Michael Jackson: One and Zarkana shows, as well as classics including O and the sexually-charged Zumanity (For deep discounts and special seating areas, purchase tickets through the Fabulous website).

The week splashes down at 2013‘s final Temptation Sundays pool party at the Luxor, a chilled out mainstay of gay Vegas’ summer social scene.

Keep reading after the jump…

Let’s be honest. There’s never been a Cirque du Soleil production that didn’t offer plenty of pulchritude for LGBT audiences. All those buff, bizarrely bendable bodies can easily raise a big top. But in Las Vegas where Cirque now has eight shows in residence, the company has built its more recent works more on pop music than physical prowess.

The approach has yielded two successes, The Beatles LOVE—a kaleidoscopic visualization of some of the greatest music of the 20th century, and perhaps the most emotionally nuanced Cirque production ever—and Michael Jackson ONE—a sizzling, high-tech dance show. It also yielded Viva Elvis!, which PASSPORT correctly predicted shortly after its opening in 2009, “may inspire audiences to sing out loud verse of Return to Sender.” It’s the first and only Cirque show to ever shut down in Vegas.

But for longtime Cirque aficionados, Zarkana—which relatively quietly replaced the Presley show at the Aria last year—is a joy to behold a return to the sharp focus on elegant athleticism that marks Cirque’s touring shows and its finest resident productions (Mystere and O in Vegas, and La Nouba, in Orlando).

The instantly recognizable songs of LOVE and ONE create a Pavlovian excitement  in audiences, triggering deep nostalgic associations. But they also pull the mind’s focus from exactly what’s happening on stage. Zarkana eliminates the hits and brings back the nonsense-Esperanto singing that has long been one of Cirque’s hallmarks; it serves as a pulsing background to the onstage performers, rather than reducing them to illustrations for the work of the much more famous performers on a celebrity soundtrack.

And the onstage performers are marvelous. Acts include a svelte, sexy male hand balancer who undulates impossibly in a sort of slow-motion breakdancing, a team of acrobats who hurl one another aloft forming midair constellations and landing in human pyramids, a pair of high wire walkers who play a game of leap frog, and a remarkably intricate trapeze ensemble that puts 12 bodies into crisscrossing flight. Gay audience members will get a particular kick out of a flag juggling act that makes the “flagging” routines seen in Pride parades look like child’s play.

Zarkana is lush with cinematic projections and a rich color-saturated lighting design; but the art direction frames and spotlight the performers rather than diverting the audience’s attention from them, as is sometimes the case in the visual confetti-cannons of LOVE and ONE. Zarkana takes the level of visual wizardry seen in the music-driven shows and wraps it around the acrobatics that lie at the heart of Cirque’s longtime success. The stars of this show are alive on the stage rather than primarily in the audience’s ears, and memories.

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