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segunda-feira, 14 de dezembro de 2009

'Viva Elvis' aims to restore king to his Vegas throne

Jackson colleague tackles Presley legend

It was in Memphis, of all places, that Vincent Paterson found out Michael Jackson had died.

That coincidence on June 25 narrowed any remaining separation between Jackson -- the superstar to whom Paterson owed much of his career -- and Elvis Presley, the superstar Paterson has been catching up with for Cirque du Soleil's latest spectacle.

Cirque du Soleil hired Paterson to direct "Viva Elvis" in part because of his stage and video choreography for Jackson and Madonna. The show opens with previews Friday at Aria, the city's newest megaresort.

"I spent so many years with people like Michael, that you see the tragedy of people who the spotlight of the world shines on," he says.

"You know that in a way they don't really have a choice. They're absorbed by this and taken by it. Some mystical hand kind of controls their fate, or so it seems to me. What they sacrifice for us is monumental."

Presley died in 1977, six years before Paterson played a dancing gang leader in Jackson's "Beat It" video. "I was a Beatles guy," he says. "Elvis was kind of my mom's and my aunt's generation."

Likewise, the young Cirque cast visited Graceland and Beale Street as part of an inspirational and educational field trip. "They had no connection to Elvis at all," Paterson notes. "They're up to 30 years old. They weren't even born when he died."

But on June 25, their work took on deeper resonance.

"All of a sudden with Michael's death -- which they could relate to so intensely -- for the first time they connected to Elvis in a whole other way," Paterson says. "They understood Elvis in a whole new way. It was kind of revelatory."

And, speaking of it six months later, Paterson still gets choked up. "I really sensed it, and it carried over for a couple of days. ... It was a very hard time after Michael's death."

Paterson and Jackson co-choreographed such MTV videos as "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Smooth Criminal," and Paterson staged both Jackson's "Bad" and Madonna's "Blonde Ambition" tours.

But it was his 1950s reimagining of "Manon" for the Los Angeles Opera in 2006 that showed his theatrical side and led to the invitation from Cirque officials.

Just as "Love" branded Cirque with the Beatles in 2006, "Viva" hopes to restore the King to his Las Vegas throne in a new 1,800-seat theater at Aria.

Cirque is partnering with Robert Sillerman's CKX Inc. for the show, which begins its first ticketed previews Friday. Paterson stresses it's a work in progress until a Feb. 19 grand opening. "The whole thing about Cirque is they give you time to explore," he says.

Paterson brings "a bit of an American edge" and perhaps the most outside perspective yet to the Montreal-based Cirque. "Viva Elvis" is the company's seventh show on the Strip, and each new entry brings greater need to make its titles separate and distinct.

"There's more dance and music in this than there is in 'Love,' " Paterson says of "Viva." Despite earlier rumors to the contrary, Presley will not be personified onstage, but heard in tracked vocals backed by a live band. A narrator will address the audience in English.

Even before public previews, creators moved away from a concept of having actors play such characters as Presley's mother and "Colonel" Tom Parker.

"At one point it was much more heavily biographical," Paterson says. "As we put it up, we found that it felt a little bit too Broadway-esque, so we stepped away from that and more towards spectacle."

Paterson hopes die-hard Presley fans respond well to contemporary arrangements of his classic hits. "We didn't want it to be a walk down memory lane," he explains. "In this discovery of what he did to music, our approach was more, 'If he was here now with that voice, why couldn't he still be No. 1 on the charts?'"

But Elvis has, as they say, left the building. And beyond the sheer size of the spectacle, Paterson says "Viva Elvis" quickly detours from his work with living superstars. "It's a lot trickier when you've got a star that doesn't exist onstage," he says. But in both cases, "you try to bring out the best of what you feel about that person."

This being upbeat Las Vegas entertainment, the show won't dwell on Presley's early death at age 42, eight years younger than Jackson was when he died.

"We look back at them and go: 'They've got everything. They've got money, they've got power, they've got fame.' Having spent a lot of time with many, many superstars, I see that it's not what it's cut out to be.

"It's a very difficult life."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at or 702-383-0288.


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