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Nerve Center offers viewers all-access pass to amazement

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When you watch a Cirque do Soleil show, you can't help but marvel at the athleticism and artistry of the performers. And when you watch an IndyCar race, you're bound to be awestruck by the skill and courage of the drivers.

But in the case of each event, as with pretty much any show or sporting event you might observe, there's a whole lot more going on behind the scenes than the ticket-buying public probably ever realizes or understands.

Discovery Channel's Canadian-made series Nerve Center opens its second season (Sunday at 7 p.m.) with back-to-back episodes that demonstrate, in fascinating detail, just how much goes into putting on a show or staging a race.

That Nerve Center should return to the realm of Cirque du soleil (it examined the aquatic extravaganza O in its first season) is something of a no-brainer. By their nature, and increasingly so with each new show that opens, Cirque du Soleil's fixed-venue events (particularly in Las Vegas) have become as much about technical wizardry and mechanical wonder as they are about confounding feats of human strength and agility.

In Sunday's opener, the Discovery crew visits Cirque's KÄ spectacular at the MGM Grand Hotel. While a decidedly less splashy (in terms of water, not showmanship) endeavour than O, this show has its own unique set of jaw-dropping technical elements.

KÄ is performed on a one-of-a-kind stage that, thanks to a gigantic gantry crane that embraces it, can tilt from horizontal to vertical in just over half a minute and can spin 360 degrees regardless of its level of incline.

These movements are controlled by a team of technicians and riggers whose split-second decisions and reactions keep the show moving and the immensely talented acrobatic performers safe. Nerve Center follows cast and crew through a single around-the-clock day, from the curtain of one night's show through the pressure-packed effort to repair hydraulic pumps in time to allow the cast to rehearse a dangerous new trick and introduce a new front-line cast member in time for the next night's show.

It's nothing short of amazing to observe, and Nerve Center's camera crew is meticulous in its attention to fascinating Cirque-inclined detail.

Sunday's second episode comes with an important viewer-discretion warning: the examination of IndyCar Championship racing was also shot in Las Vegas, last fall at the open-wheel series' season-ending race, which included a multi-car crash that claimed the life of driver Dan Wheldon.

The instalment actually focuses mostly on two other IndyCar teams as they prepare for the race by setting up their cars, taking part in practice laps and start-position qualifying and doing endless pit-stop run-throughs in an effort to shave seconds off race-day tire changes and refuelling.

But footage of the race itself is chilling, with the accident that killed Wheldon shown from several angles that some might find excessive and/or upsetting. Nerve Center's behind-the-scenes access takes viewers uncomfortably close as the folks who make their living in the IndyCar business struggle to deal with what has just occurred.

It's the best and worst of a series that's very good at what it does.


Nerve Center

Featuring Cirque du Soleil's KÄ and IndyCar Championship racing

Sunday at 7 p.m.


4 stars out of 5

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 18, 2012 G5

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