Danny Elfman Discusses Musical Approach New L.A. Cirque du Soleil Show
Danny Elfman Discusses Musical Approach New L.A. Cirque du Soleil Show

The first Cirque du Soleil to be based permanently in Los Angeles is a tribute to cinema, but score composer Danny Elfman says the music has come together in a way that is not at all like filmmaking.

"It was all completely evolutionary as it came together," Elfman told Billboard.biz at the Kodak Theatre, where the show "Iris" opens in previews July 21. "In a weird way it was nothing like working on a film. It was closer to working with Twyla Tharp on the ballet."

Producers introduced "Iris" (pronounced Ee-Res) with the presentation of two scenes Thursday at the Kodak, where the show will be staged every month except February, when the Academy Awards take over the theater. Its official opening is Sept. 25. The scenes were definitely Cirque-style interpretations of films; one featured aerialists and studio crew in a bit of Busby-Berkley choreography and another went from a noir-ish chase scene on the rooftops of New York to a blinding neon gunfight.

Elements of the score heard Thursday in the rooftop scene were clearly inspired by film noir classics, Alfred Newman and "West Side Story," which Elfman acknowledged. Otherwise, he says, the music was designed to complement the ideas of writer-director Philippe Decouflé.

Decouflé is a French stage and film director, dancer and choreographer who founded his own company in 1983. In 1992, he created the opening and closing ceremonies of the Albertville Olympic Games and two years ago he created the show "Desirs" at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris. "Iris" is his first show with Cirque du Soleil.

The music will be a combination of an eight-piece ensemble performing live and the sound of an 80-piece orchestra Elfman will record in two weeks. "The language of cinema is orchestral so there's no way to leave that out," he says, noting that sounds come from the full force of the band or be a single instrument.

Elfman, known for his scores of Tim Burton films, "Milk" and the "Spider-Man" films, began work on the project two-and-half years ago, simply writing music to hand to Decouflé. There were no drawings or clips, just conversations about what was needed. Once they had performances pieces ready, Elfman would cut and paste some music and return to his studio to compose some ore.

"Then I disappear and they would come back saying they have a dozen things working so I would take a two-minute piece and have to turn it into six-and-a-half minutes," he says of the process. "They would show up with three pieces that have no music. Some times you start from scratch, in others you tie one piece to another.

"There are two characters, so there are throughlines for them. Does it make logical sense like a script? Absolutely not. This is a surrealistic homage. You get a sense of characters moving through the story, but the story is very much a dream."