- You can see it...you can experience it...but you won't...believe it.— Tagline
KA is a Cirque du Soleil show installed in a specially-constructed showroom at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. It opened in 2005 as the company's fourth show in the city and sixteenth production overall.
Directed by Robert Lepage, the Something Completely Different concept of this show is a focus on linear storytelling; the plot is intended as the heart of the experience and the acrobatics and other specialty acts advance it. There is no real world-language dialogue, only a brief English narration at the beginning. The title is both the Egyptian word for "duality" and the Japanese word for "fire"; as the narration points out, fire can be both destructive and life-bringing, and used for good or evil...
Heavily inspired by Wuxia, the story is set in "The Empire", a kingdom of noble warriors, good-hearted commoners, and kind royalty. The teenaged Imperial Twins (boy and girl) have arrived back from overseas to their palace grounds and their parents, the Emperor and Empress. But evil forces (the Archers and Spearmen) led by one known as The Counselor attack; their parents are slain and the Twins are separated. The story proceeds to alternate between the journeys of each. The Twin Sister escapes with her Nursemaid and a trio of Valets and they travel over sea, beach, mountain, and forest, often only steps ahead of the enemy. The Twin Brother and his loyal Court Jester friend wind up captives in a lair where the Counselor's equally wicked son has developed a powerful explosive that requires slave labor to manufacture, but they find a friend in the Chief Archer's Daughter. Eventually the twins and their respective parties will battle the Counselor's army and decide the fate of the Empire.
Yes, it's a Cliché Storm. The telling of the tale is the hook; it starts with Scenery Porn then Serial Escalation. Instead of a conventional stage, two large platforms are hydraulically manipulated from below the audience's line of sight to rise, tilt, spin, and even stand completely vertical to create a variety of settings — a beach full of whimsical sea creatures, the wall of a cave, a mountain the heroes scramble up by grabbing onto the "arrows" shot into its side by the villains, etc. And from martial arts to full-body puppetry to Cirque-conventional acrobatics, there's lots to see in one of the most elaborate theatrical productions in the world.
In North America, the documentary DVD KA Extreme (available through the Cirque's online boutique) takes a look at its creation and elaborate staging. The CSI episode "Built to Kill, Part 1" features it as the setting of the crime of the week. In 2007, the German TV station ZDF recorded the whole show in cooperation with Cirque du Soleil — making it the first time one of their Las Vegas shows has been filmed. It has aired several times in Germany, France, the UK, and Ireland, together with a realtime backstage documentary of the same show, but there are no plans to release a DVD of these recordings. In 2012, Marvel published a three-issue Comic-Book Adaptation, and the characters and several setpieces were incorporated into the 3-D Movie Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away that same year.
Tragically, the show suffered Cirque's first-ever onstage fatality on June 29, 2013 when performer Sarah Guyard-Guillot accidentally fell to her death during the "Battlefield" climax, which involved a Wire Fu battle between the opposing sides. "Battlefield" was initially absent from the show when it reopened a few weeks later, then reinstated with the change that all the performers were projected onto the wall. The original version of the act was restored at the end of 2014.
This show contains examples of:
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The Shadow Play is so well-regarded that for a few years it was one of the clips that introduced the Cirque company website.
- All There in the Manual: The show does its best to make the story and character development clear, but yes, reading up on it beforehand via the official website helps. The Comic-Book Adaptation also clarifies a few minor plot points, such as the nature of the conflict (the Chief Archer had to be convinced by the Counselor to go to war with the Empire).
- Annoying Arrows: Avoided with the Archers' weapons of choice, which are definitely deadly.
- Audience Participation: Unconventional example. Since the story and staging prevent Cirque's usual invocation of this trope, the theater's lobby and seating areas are presented as a "village" the audience is visiting for the celebration of the twins' return. As such, all of the ushers ("Gatekeepers") are residents of the village who welcome the visitors and joke with them in-character; each with a unique character at that. As showtime draws closer, the stage area (which appears as a giant, firey pit) and surrounding catwalks are revealed to be the depths of the villains' mine as the Archers and Spearmen scramble about.
- Bamboo Technology: The Mountain Tribe's flying machine.
- Beach Episode: An entire scene that features the Twin Sister and the Nursemaid washing up on the shore after the storm, reuniting with the Valets, and their encounters with several creatures that come their way.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: Human-sized insects, to be exact — a potato bug on the beach and a grasshopper in the forest.
- The Centerpiece Spectacular: The Slave Cage, which sets up the climactic battle. (For a while, it was the climax of the show after the death of Sarah Guyard-Guillot.)
- Chase Scene: The Climb.
- Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity: The Climb, as the Twin Sister's party flees the villains via a very steep mountainside.
- Costume Porn: From royal robes to warriors' tattoos to full-body animal outfits (which cross over with puppetry).
- Crosscast Role: The Twin Brother, due to casting identical female twins for the lead roles.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The Archer Chief is practically unbeatable in one on one combat. The Counselor has to cheat to defeat him. How he does it depends on which variation of the show is being performed.
- Distressed Dude: The Twin Brother and the Court Jester are captured and caged, and freed by the Chief Archer's Daughter.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: All the good guys suffer through myriad trials, but their efforts pay off in spades.
- The Empire: In terms of the trope it's the Archer Village. They kick off the story in their attempt to conquer the lands around them and slay the Imperial Family. The actual Empire in Ka is benevolent and experiencing a golden age... until they're invaded at least.
- Everything's Better with Sparkles: The Firefly Boy, referred to at the trope entry as "sparkly Tarzan".
- Everything's Better with Spinning: The Love Dance (manipulation) and the Slave Cage (wheel of death). Even the stage is better with spinning in this show!
- Evil Chancellor: The Counselor; All There in the Manual material confirms that he's the one who's convinced the Chief Archer to lead the Archers and Spearmen into war with the benevolent Empire, all along planning to usurp him when the time is right.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: All the character names!
- Half-Identical Twins: Our heroes.
- Happily Ever After: Oh so much. The Prince marries the Chief's Daughter, joining the Archer Village to the Empire. The Princess marries the Firefly Boy, joining the Forest Tribe to the Empire. The Nursemaid marries a member of the Mountain Tribe, also adding their people to the Empire. All the nations peacefully unified as one, the Archers destroy their weapons and renounce war. The Counselor and his Son have learned the follies of their evil, are forgiven by the others, and reveal they've transformed Ka into a symbol of peace.
- HeelFace Turn: In the end, all the villains — yes, even the Counselor and his son — repent of their evil ways.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: It doesn't actually result in death, but the Counselor's Son is permanently blinded by his own explosive when he tries to use it against the good guys.
- Human Resources: The explosive is a powder created when a certain ore and human bones are ground up together. The villains have no shortage of either; now all they need are slaves to power the grinding machine...
- Involuntary Group Split: The premise of the plot - everyone made it aboard the escape boat in the beginning, but then the Twin Brother is shot off the boat, and the Court Jester leaps off at the last minute to get him to safety.
- Jungle Japes: The Forest.
- Kick the Dog: The theater rules are presented without dialogue as the Counselor and his son encounter an "audience member" (plant) who breaks the three rules: no flash photography, cell phones must be turned off, and no smoking. They toss his camera into the pit, then his cell phone...then him.
- Love at First Sight: The Twin Sister and the Firefly Boy. The Chief Archer's Daughter also falls in love with the Twin Brother upon seeing him and the Court Jester playing with shadow puppets (a detail clarified in the Comic-Book Adaptation).
- Named by the Adaptation: In the Marvel Comics adaptation, the Chief Archer's Daughter is named Diana. Also a Meaningful Name, as Diana is the goddess of the hunt, among other things, in Roman Classical Mythology.
- Nameless Narrative: Unusually for a Cirque show, no character has a proper name!
- Nice Hat: The starfish on the beach certainly thinks the Valets' red hats are nice — it takes one of them for itself!
- "No Talking or Phones" Warning: See Kick the Dog above.
- Older Sidekick: The Valets and the Nursemaid for the Twin Sister, and the Court Jester for the Twin Brother.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: Change "Latin" to "Simlish" and you're good to go whenever the action heats up. The music for this show was mostly prerecorded so they could give it a full orchestra and choir to augment the live musicians.
- One-Woman Wail: "Aftermath".
- Opening Narration: Needed to set up the premise.
- Orchestral Bombing: "Battlefield", which underscores the climactic battle.
- Plucky Comic Relief: The Valets and the Nursemaid.
- Retool: The show has had significant tweaks, some to make the story flow and "read" better.
- Originally the Chief Archer's Daughter first encountered the good guys in a mountain scene involving huge pillars the performers jumped to and from. It took so long to set up and take down that the surrounding scenes with the Twin Sister's group had to be padded, hurting the show's momentum. (It's also been said that this scene caused too many injuries.) The pillars were dropped and instead she encounters them during Shadow Play — which better establishes her interest in the Twin Brother as well.
- The Twin Sister arrived at the tail end of the Forest People scene, and her romance with the Firefly Boy was thus abrupt; later the scene was retooled to give the performers an aerial strap act that allowed the audience to see them fall in love.
- With the death of a performer in 2013, Battlefield was temporarily dropped. The Slave Cage sequence became the climax, rather than The Centerpiece Spectacular, and the epilogue was extended to make up for lost time (via showing the twins being prepared for the ceremony). Battlefield was then restored by projecting the performers onto the wall, but at the end of 2014 the original version of the sequence was reinstated.
- Rewritten Pop Version / Rearrange the Song: The last three tracks on the soundtrack album are mostly-English pop songs based on tunes from the score.
- Satellite Love Interest: The Chief Archer's Daughter for the Twin Brother, and the Firefly Boy for the Twin Sister. At least both pitch in to help the heroes — the former frees the Twin Brother and the Jester from their cages, and the latter participates in the final battle along with his fellow forest dwellers.
- Scenery Porn, Scenery Porn, Scenery Porn
- Set Switch Song: The Deep (and its song) allows the set to switch from The Storm to The Archers' Den by concealing it behind a screen.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: The lighter characters (the Valets, Nursemaid, etc.) are absent from the Battlefield climax. They all return for the epilogue.
- Singing Simlish, and Speaking Simlish: As per Cirque's usual style.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The scene after Pageant — where the enemy emerges for their attack on the unknowing citizens of the Empire — features two conflicting music tracks.
- Spared by the Adaptation: The Court Jester. He was thrown off to his death in the original "Pillars" scene at the base of the mountain. His absence for the remainder of the show made his curtain call appearance all the more triumphant — he is the last character to show up and rises out in front of the Wheel of Death that towers above the rest of the cast. After revisions that took out this scene, the Court Jester now gets captured along with the Twin Brother at the end of Shadowplay, thus ensuring he remains alive for the rest of the story.
- Silence Is Golden: No English-language dialogue. The Comic-Book Adaptation follows on from this by using text describing events in the third person instead of dialogue.
- Storyboard: The creators used storyboards as part of the larger creative process; some can be seen at the offical website.
- Supernatural Martial Arts: The fighters flying about the Battlefield.
- Tattooed Crook: The Archers and Spearmen, as well as the Counselor's Son.
- Those Magnificent Flying Machines: The Mountain Tribe has one of these.
- Villain Opening Scene: The preshow set in the villains' mine, capped off by the Kick the Dog moment mentioned above.
- Villainous Cheekbones: The Counselor and his son, accomplished in part with makeup.
- Walk on Water: It's All There in the Manual, but the Battlefield is the surface of a lake; this is why the performers' feet touching it causes ripples to appear.
- Wire Fu: Battlefield.