LUZIA by Cirque du Soleil
The circus is dead. Long live the circus!
This is more true than people might know. Seven months ago, the most famous traditional circus closed after 146 years. This would be the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which billed itself as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” As their popularity declined and they stopped using live animals (a very good thing), another iteration of circus has gradually and naturally taken its place. Cirque du Soleil has changed the modern circus for the better.
Beyond their famous permanent shows in Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil has a diverse output of touring productions. Their latest is “LUZIA–a Waking Dream of Mexico.” It aims to show a bit of Mexican culture alongside their trademark feats of human ability and acrobatics. Check out their preview/trailer.
The cultural information is not the dry, educational kind that makes kids groan. Instead, it comes through in the themes, the colors, and the music of the acts. Animals are represented often, with performers dressed as hummingbirds, Monarch butterflies, and tree frogs. There are also large puppets of a horse and a jaguar, all of which are important animals to Mexican heritage.
The music as well is all inspired by Mexico, without falling into the stereotypical mariachi band trap. There are five live musicians playing guitar, trumpet, and more, sometimes at the center of your attention, but more often in the background, constantly providing a beautiful and evocative soundtrack for the performances.
Add to this the overt references to Mexican pastimes in some of the acts (soccer and Lucha Libre in particular) and art style, and you’re taken away to explore a real world location in a heightened-reality sort of way.
A friend told me that he knew someone who was tired of Cirque du Soleil shows because of their similarities. There’s a clown, a contortionist, a trapeze artist, etc. Technically, that’s true, but unless you’re going to these shows multiple times per year, I can’t imagine getting bored. There is always something new to see and enjoy, and the amazement of seeing the performances right in front of you never dims. It has been two years since my previous Cirque show, and my enthusiasm was not diminished by that.
Although there was a contortionist, it was a man this time, which is a change from the expected. Two different aerialists, both dangling from an apparatus above the stage, were completely distinct from each other. And yes, there was the clown, the audience’s guide through the show. He started and ended the festivities and guided us along the way as we followed his journey. It was also his job to interact with the audience between acts, to keep everyone entertained while they changed the scene. And he did it all without words. Cirque shows are literally for all audiences. There was some singing in Spanish, which I didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter a bit. It could be in any language, and I would enjoy it just as much. For that matter, maybe not understanding the words even helped immerse me more in the stylized world being presented.
There were feats of strength by a movie star from Mexico’s classic film era. There was a masked luchador fulfilling every child’s fantasy on a swingset. And in possibly my favorite act, there were performers flying through the air from one swing to another, landing with amazing grace on a narrow platform that moved underneath them…until their landing platform was taken away and the finale was perhaps even more impressive.
I also want to particularly mention the soccer act. One man and one woman came out and manipulated a soccer ball in ways that I couldn’t believe. What they were able to do was astonishing. At one point they were passing the ball back and forth with their legs intertwined, and the movements were so fast and smooth that my mind wasn’t even able to comprehend how they were doing what they did. It was a great demonstration of the real awe in these performances coming from the people, and not the crazy apparatuses they use.
As amazing as the performers are, they are given an incredibly customized stage to both enable their abilities and to showcase them to the audience sitting in a semicircle around them. The stage is a marvel of technology. Shaped like a circle, it has two revolving rings around the perimeter, allowing the entire stage to turn so everyone gets a chance for a great view.
However, the coolest part of the stage was a brand-new feature for Cirque. They wanted to make water a central element of this show. To that end, they have a rain curtain that drops a sheet of water from above. They also have a circular pool of water in the center of the stage. Both of these features were utilized well, although the rain curtain had more stage time, so to speak. It was used in an acrobatic performance as performances swung and twirled through it. It was also used in a comedy bit with the clown, as certain areas of the rain would fall or dry up, depending on what the clown was doing underneath them. And it was even used on its own, as an artistic canvas. By adjusting the individual nozzles at the top of the rain, they were able to paint 2D images onto the sheet of water. Not only patterns, but flowers, trees, and animals cascaded down in a scene held the audience rapt with attention.
The fact that all of this takes place inside a tent is easy to forget. Once in your seats, you’d never guess that the entire building will be folded up onto trucks and carted to the next location in a few weeks. According to the press release, it takes 8 full days to set up the Big Top, which can withstand winds up to 75 mph. The whole mini-city travels in 65 trailer trucks and weighs almost 2,000 tons.
Cirque du Soleil really is something that everyone can enjoy. Not only all ages, but all nationalities, genders, races…none of these things matter when watching this show. It’s pure entertainment and takes you back to being a kid when you thought you could do anything. For a moment or three during the show, I even thought about leaving my job and trying to join Cirque, just to be a part of something so amazing. I still think the idea is a good one–there’s something romantic about the notion, although I’m not going to do it (probably). With tickets starting at $50, most people can experience this too–go be transported for an afternoon, to a state of mind where anything is possible.
Luzia runs through February 11 at Dodger Stadium and February 21 to March 18 in Costa Mesa.
Tickets and other information can be found here.