Take a Nap with 2,000 Friends at Cirque du Soleil
One of the most enduring Vegas productions, “KÀ” remains a dreamworld so serene it’s capable of lulling the audience to sleep.
“KÀ” by Cirque du Soleil is one of the most ambitious shows in Las Vegas. It’s a thrilling spectacle of sight and sound, driven by the stage itself, divided into levitating segments that use hydraulics to rise, fall, rotate, and turn at angles that are dangerously steep.
“‘KÀ’ is a grand adventure uniquely told by Cirque du Soleil in a way it had not done so before,” according to Richard “Richasi” Russo, a megafan who runs Richasi’s Le Grand Chapiteau and the Fascination! Newsletter. “The show pushed the envelope in theater design, technology, and presentation for its time, creating an epic story for the stage that would have been right at home on a motion picture screen.”
There have been more than 8,000 performances of “KÀ” over nearly 20 years in Las Vegas, featuring a cast of more than 80 performers in a colorful, multicultural world that borrows elements from Asian, African, and South American iconography. Throughout the course of 90 minutes inside the MGM Grand, the audience marvels at set pieces like the Wheel of Death (hamster-wheel cages connected to a centralized arm) and a da Vinci–esque flying machine that soars over the audience. It’s not an exaggeration to describe “KÀ” as one of the most impressive and innovative stage productions on the Las Vegas Strip.
Yet I can’t help it: I’ve fallen asleep during the show at least twice. And I’m not alone.
Google the phrase “ka cirque fall asleep,” and you’ll come across reviews mentioning the phenomenon on travel sites and social media. “I saw four people that fell asleep in my immediate vicinity,” reads one 11-year-old review on TripAdvisor. “I am an insomniac and have been for many years. I legit fell asleep during ‘KÀ,’” writes one Reddit comment posted just five months ago. On X, you’ll find tweets by people who took a nap during “KÀ” in 2013, 2015, 2019, and 2022.
It continues to come up in conversations I’ve had with folks who regularly attend Cirque shows in Vegas. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I had dinner with a fellow journalist and without mentioning the premise of this story, simply asked, “Have you seen ‘KÀ’?” His immediate response: “I fell asleep.”
It’s even discussed among those who know and love Cirque best. “I have heard of audience members falling asleep during a performance, and I don’t necessarily think it’s because the show is boring,” Russo says about “KÀ.” He has a theory as to why: “The action raises your adrenaline and heart rate whilst the slower parts—the recovery from that action and subsequent story flow—calms you down, lulling you into a sense of safety and security. One can’t help but drift away if you’re so inclined to do so.”
I think Russo is on to something here. “KÀ” is a balance of peaks and valleys, and the quieter moments are driven by dreamlike environments—most notably, an underwater world that takes shape with special effects after a shipwreck scene. Nothing rocks a weary vacationer to sleep quite like the image and sound of crashing waves.
I ran into a longtime “KÀ” cast member during a recent off-Strip art event. When I mentioned I’ve fallen asleep during the show, she asked if it was during the forest scene. (It might’ve been. I don’t remember. I was asleep.)
“They changed the forest. They changed that music now,” she said about the onstage sequence, built around an elegant, romantic aerial performance. “They have petals [falling] over the audience now. They ‘zhuzh it up’ is what they say,” referring to the production team. They do indeed switch things up from time to time, but “it still is [about] the story. They try to keep the story important.”
While other Cirque productions rely on loose imagery and themes, “KÀ” is the only one in Vegas with a concrete, linear storyline—and, to be honest, the plot isn’t always easy to follow. It involves a pair of young twins—heirs to an unnamed kingdom in an unnamed world—who are separated when a celebration gives way to an attack. Characters come and go. Some get captured. Some fall in love. People fight. Bad guys turn on one another. There is a lot happening, and the show’s only moment of spoken narration takes place at the very beginning. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who’s who and what’s happening. If an audience member loses focus, drowsiness can creep in.
The venue itself is a factor as well. “KÀ” takes place in an intimate theater that feels deceptively large, surrounded by four levels of catwalks with the warm glow of soft amber lighting and stage-area mist welcoming guests at the beginning of each show. The music, performed live by mostly unseen instrumentalists, is heard throughout the theater on more than 5,000 speakers, including two in every one of the 1,950 seats; it’s a truly immersive audio experience. But it’s almost too relaxing—unless, of course, that’s what you’re after.
In the name of completing my research, I bought a ticket to see the latest edition of the show. I stayed awake the entire time, though the responsibility of said research was likely to thank for that. Just four days later, a “three-minute survey” showed up in my inbox, asking questions like “How satisfied were you with ‘KÀ’ at ‘KÀ’ Theater?” with space to offer a response in detail. I had little to complain about. I enjoyed the show more than ever, making a point to focus on the visuals over the storyline—allowing any questions about the plot to float on by. It worked better that way.
The world will continue to turn in 2024, undoubtedly dredging up more chaos than the year prior. Who can argue with entertainment that is so escapist that it has the capacity to lull you into a dream state? “KÀ” is art, and sometimes art sets a tone and creates a mood. This year, my mood is “KÀ.”