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Time has not been the enemy of "O." Success? Maybe.

But if you haven’t seen "Le Reve," or other Cirque du Soleils that recycled too many of the red waistcoats from the 10-year-old aqua-spectacular, jump in. The water’s still fine.

"O" is still that perfect junction between Cirque’s early life as a classy circus and the broad-ranging theatrical entity it’s now trying to become. The acrobats are the stars, but the staging makes it memorable.

The playing area morphs from deep lake to (almost) dry land in a few moments, creating one-of-a-kind visuals such as carousel horses circling over the water.

The early acts are deliberately languid, the trapeze artists doing their thing slowly and gracefully, allowing the audience to take in the sheer boldness of the concept.

Do we still ask, 10 years later, what it all means? Back in the beginning, creative director Gilles Ste-Croix explained the concept as "a tribute to theater." The mist-covered lake carries all memories, "all the stories that have happened from the time of Shakespeare."

That idea at least makes for a nice beginning. An everyman pulled from the audience (Jorge Castano) is yanked through a red curtain, which is then breathtakingly whisked away to the inner recesses of the stage, revealing the world manipulated by the sinister theater manager (Benedikt Negro).

From that point on, you could ask what happened to Shakespeare, but you’ll be too busy watching guys do gymnastics on the steel-frame ship that floats over the water.

The excitement level picks up steam until it crests with an audience favorite, the Russian swing. Pendulums send acrobats flying 30-feet high over the water, suspended briefly in the air like cartoon characters before they take the plunge. It looks like something you’d want to try. But the 60-foot-high dives from the upper reaches of the proscenium are best left to the pros.

If the strengths of "O" haven’t been shaken over the years, neither have the weaknesses.

The layout of the 1,800-seat theater puts much of the audience at a diminishing distance (something the same director, Franco Dragone, set out to cure by staging "Le Reve" in the round).

The older "Mystere" and the newer "Love" also keep the characters more immediate. Here, the two clowns (Leonid Leykin and Valery Keft) literally drift in to perform and then out again.

Seeing "O" now may be like reminding yourself that the punk dystopia of "Blade Runner" was the original, not the copy, or that mismatched cop buddies weren’t a tired idea when "48 Hours" came out.

Cirque may have created its own cliches, but they fall into place behind overridingly powerful images. You may remember the sinking grand piano from your first visit. Next time, look for the hotel maid in the 1930s-era uniform, also riding her laundry cart into the murky depths.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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