I’m not sure what exactly I expected from the Messi10 Cirque du Soleil - I’d never been to the circus before, I am in Barcelona where this show is playing and so it seemed like the right time to go. The idea of building a 90 minute circus performance around a single player in itself is a bit of an odd one, but such is the way of things with Lionel Messi: extraordinary.
Messi has expressed his own initial surprise from when the concept was first brought to him, specifically that such adulations of legends don’t usually occur while they are still active. But Messi has so utterly, thoroughly blasted every high standard for a player completely out of the exosphere that it feels natural, even necessary to build the highest cathedrals of adoration to him, in these precious, waning years of his career, slipping away from us, slowly, but all too fast.
And the Messi10 show does this: woven across magnificent set pieces, trapeze acts, ball tricks, an entire “match” played out through flips and pirouettes on a massive trampoline, humorous skits and solemn drama, all executed with a precision, skill and dexterity that echoes Messi’s on the pitch, is an uplifting celebration of the career, fortitude, brilliance and beauty that is Leo Messi. From fast-paced acrobatic flourish to dreamy ballet-like sequences, you get the highs, triumphs, lows, challenges; and above all, perseverance, and joy.
Drumbeats straight out of Camp Nou’s Gol Nord against an intense tribute to Messi’s scoring excellence flow into Ray Hudson soundbites crowing about Messi’s grace and balance while an acrobat exhibits the same onstage. A somber “Messi” with a mountain of balls piled high on his back, gives way to a high-energy set piece juxtaposed with a screen counting up his nearly 700 career goals, gives way to choreography celebrating teamwork and locker room camaraderie, gives way to dizzying sequences of Messis weaving through opponents and conquering obstacles. A tightrope walker meticulously balances herself, a unicycle and a ladder on a climb to reach a high-hanging ball, no feat insurmountable; an uproarious injury skit starring a contortionist has the audience in fits; a glorious lion (formed by two acrobats) appears and dances across a maze of precarious platforms, ever triumphant; massive Barca and Argentina shirts unfurl over the crowd as flag-bearers again echoing the Gol Nord salute the fans. A tall hooligan who occasionally shows up, takes his shirt off and makes a fool of himself is… inspired.
But through the laughter, wonder and marvel of it all is an underlying inescapable hit of emotion. It’s a celebration of Messi’s excellence and a narrative of belief and overcoming challenges, yes, but also for me in the moment, a vibrant reminder of everything Messi stands for and embodies as the singlemost undyingly beautiful exemplification of a footballer. Everything that has consistently given me so much joy and blown my mind and overflowed my heart for years and years. Everything that currently has me in Barcelona for the Dortmund match during this, the most dismal form the team has exhibited in over a decade, paling in the face of urgent need to take in as much of Messi as possible as time flies by.
In one segment voiceovers of a few people say what Messi means to them, and I find myself mentally adding on:
Messi is beauty. Messi is truth. Messi is joy. Messi is genius. Messi is Barca (which I have never known without him, and dread to). Messi is grace. Messi is light. Messi is earnestness. Messi is magic. Messi is inconceivable, inexplicable, indescribable and try as I, or anyone might the words will never be enough.
At the end of the show, the clownish referee who has been brandishing his red card all night pulls it out a final time, and unfolds it into a heart, to massive applause. Maybe that’s the only sentiment you need: Messi is love.