With seventy per cent of the forty-eight-member cast and all of the musicians and singers being women, Cirque du Soleil’s nineteenth and latest show touring the world – Amaluna – is a tour de force of female power and prowess. In an evening where the reverberating voices, the gasp-producing athleticism, and the eye-popping pageantry of women reigns supreme, no better segment demonstrates the awesome displays of female circus and performance skills than the finale of Act One when eight women representing six nationalities wow the audience as their bodies take off in synchronized flight using uneven bars as their launch pads. Their Amazon warrior depictions match the sheer strength displayed as their bodies swing, flip, and fly – often barely missing each other in mid-air before landing with grace and surety.
And that is just one of the eleven, main acts during the two-hour, ten-minute show (plus a twenty-five-minute intermission) that together tell a story of mystical romance where two lovers discover each other and must endure many tests and trials before their union is assured. With a storyline that loosely resembles Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the setting is a mysterious, magic-infused island named Amaluna (translated “Moon Mother”) where goddesses both earthly and of the moon govern life of the mostly female inhabitants.
In the story’s beginning, Queen Prospera announces her daughter Miranda’s coming of age, followed by a grand celebration of circling dancers and two, eye-popping peacocks. Two unicyclists arrive wearing golden-wired skirts as Japanese sisters, Satomi and Yuka Sakaino, perform a daring dance on their single-wheeled chariots. Racing to the circular stage’s very edge before converging at speeds seemingly disastrous for a twirling meeting in the middle, the two set the pace for an audience-impressing evening.
Prospera stirs the heavens to create a thunder-and-lightening storm that engulfs the massive, big-top arena. The storm’s fury is highlighted by three women (Russian Kristina Ivanova, American Mei-Mei Bouchard, and Brazilian Lais Gomes da Silva) as they take flight on aerial straps than send them bulleting across the dark-blue sky at high velocities that astound. Each woman is the epitome of precise timing and physical power as she shoots in all dimensions up, down, and around the vast arena, often missing mid-air collisions with the other two by just a hair.
The storm delivers a netted group of shipwrecked men onto the isle’s shore. Emerging is one named (what else?) Romeo, who of course immediately meets Miranda, with their locked eyes announcing their love to us all. But a slinking reptile – a half-man, half-lizard named Cali whom we have already seen scamper both high and low – arrives to whisk away Miranda in both protection and because of his own secret love for her. Now begins the journey of tests and trials before the two lovers are in each others’ arms again.
As he roams the island now lost, Romeo meets the Peacock Goddess (Eira Glover) who mesmerizes him with a dance where her limber body appears to have no restrictions in its abilities to enfold upon itself. Even more impressive is the appearance from the heavens of the Moon Goddess as Sabrina Againer bestows her blessings on the prospective, earthly couple through an aerial display of artistry and skill on a cerceau (a wire hoop), with her body at times seemingly barely hanging on as the hoop swings, twirls, and dives. She is joined on the surface of a large water bowl by Miranda (Anna Ivaseva), who hand-balances on poles attached to the pool’s sides in a fabulous array of seemingly impossible moves before she dives into the water. Her erotic dips in and out of the pool of course catch the attention of a certain Romeo who ventures close for a first kiss.
But their union is not to be as of yet. The captured young men who floundered onto Amaluna’s shores with Romeo first must assist the Amazonian athletes in their uneven bar fetes before six of the buff guys (including Danny Vrijsen as Romeo) uses a giant teeterboard to launch each other twenty or so feet into the air. From those heights, they perform twists, flips, and somersaults with three-to-four gyrations before landing back on earth. The distances covered, the landings on another’s awaiting body, and the sheer beauty of their half-naked bodies in flight is yet one more memorable highlight of the evening.
Romeo himself solos on a Chinese pole where he literally comes within inches of hitting the ground as he plunges upside down on the pole from high above, using his legs to grab the pole at the last possible split-second to avoid a sure broken neck.
But prior to his trial of courage and strength, Lili Ciao of Switzerland creates a work of art in what might very well be the evening’s feat most remembered by the hushed audience who watch her in stunned silence. Using only her toes, the Balance Goddess picks up with movements incredibly slow and deliberate increasingly longer and heavier palm leaf ribs, adding each to the last to form a giant swirling mobile – one held together merely by its balance. The thunderous applause is deafening as the completed work of art swings on the tip of one last, giant rib that stands erect only because of the overall balance with the mobile itself.
In one last desperate move to keep Miranda from her Romeo, the reptilian Cali (Vladimir Pestov) takes center stage in an act of juggling as he imprisons below him Romeo in the water bowl. There is no part of Cali’s body that does not participate in the catching and bouncing of the balls; but as the numbers of balls continues to increase up to an amazing seven, the heights and patterns their flights take on are even more phenomenal.
As the inevitable victory of the lovers is reached, the entire island arrives to celebrate, with ten men and two women performing acrobatics in a banquine, using only locked hands and arms as launching and landing platforms for bodies flying in all directions. The aerial tricks include trapeze-like feats where the swings are human-formed and towers of bodies serve as diving and landing boards.
Throughout the evening, a parallel story of love-seeking occurs as the evening’s clowns, American Kelsey Custard and Brazilian Thiago Andreuccetti meet, flirt, and delight each other and the audience while both wandering around the aisles of the arena and performing center stage. Their comic antics are many; their charm, bursting at the seams.
As is true for most Cirque du Soleil shows, there is a much more going on than just on the center stage. Broadway, West End, and opera-stage experienced Diane Paulus directs Amaluna’s central story with a clarity and cohesiveness that is not lost amidst all the circus performances while also populating a number of platforms and stages with fabulously costumed actors, dancers, and singers who provide their own mystic wonder. Original music by musical directors Bob and Bill is performed by the all-female band under direction of Anne Charbonneau and sung by lead singer Jennifer Aubry of Canada. The music helps establish the mood of tropical and mythic mystery but is somewhat monotonous and non-memorable over time, even though always performed well.
Scott Pask’s set design creates a feeling of tropical magic and beauty with swirling, bamboo-like branches that sparkle and swing in the skies above, coming to life in all sorts of glitter and color as just a small portion of Mattheiu Larivée’s lighting design. Of course much of the eye-popping, breath-taking aspects of the evening are due to the costumes designed by Mérédith Caron who creates wispy gowns for goddesses, fierce-looking wear for Amazon warriors, and a ever-moving tail for a man-lizard.
For anyone who has now seen a number of Cirque du Soleil shows, certainly Amaluna looks and feels like many of the others, even with its own unique storyline and its female-focused cast. The acts are in many ways familiar; the massive staging effects, similar; and the music, pretty much like we have heard in the past. Yet that does not mean that an annual visit to the latest Cirque du Soleil is not a must for anyone who enjoys the artistry of a circus that in many ways is not unlike an evening at the theatre or opera. There is an opulence of sensual stimulation that cannot help but bring big smiles as well as physical feats that cannot help but once again send chills down one’s spine and looks of awed wonder into one’s eyes. Yes, it is time to buy that annual ticket, this time to an island in a parking lot in San Francisco that will amaze anyone from toddlers to centenarians.
Rating: 4 E
Amaluna continues through January 22, 2020 under the Big Top at Oracle Park, San Francisco before moving to Sacramento to perform at Raley Field January 22 – February 23. Tickets are available at www.cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna or by calling 1-877-924-7783.
Photo Credits: Cirque du Soleil