Directed by Diane Paulus. A Cirque du Soleil production. In the Big Top at Concord Pacific Place on Tuesday, November 27. Continues until January 13
At the top of Amaluna I worried, “What if I’m too jaded for wonder?” That lasted about 30 seconds. Before long, I was so slack-jawed with amazement that I had to keep reminding myself to shut my mouth, and I was so transported that tears came to my eyes.
Amaluna sets out to explore archetypal female experience, and it’s a big ol’ mashup of references, the chief one being Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Prospera and her daughter Miranda live on an island that they share with a lizard man named Cali. When a boatload of sailors gets washed ashore, a couple of them turn out to be clowns, but Miranda falls for the handsome dude named Romeo. Yes, that name comes from another play, but what the heck. Amaluna also includes such non-Shakespearean characters as Amazons and Valkyries, and it leans heavily into poetic female symbols, including water and the moon. It’s a pleasure to get a semicoherent narrative in a Cirque du Soleil show, but I was a bit disappointed that the archetypal female quest seems to be about landing a boyfriend.
Still, the story really just provides a narrative framework for spectacle—and many of the acts in Amaluna are spectacular. In the Icarian Games and Watermeteors sequence, female acrobats spin and toss ropes that are weighted at both ends—while their male counterparts juggle the women on their feet. It’s insane. In a balancing act of a different kind, performer Lara Jacobs builds an enormous mobile out of palm ribs, holding onto her teetering construction with one hand while picking up new ribs from the floor with her toes. This is the stillest circus act I’ve seen; the audience was breathless. There’s a tight-wire act in which the women wear toe shoes and high heels. And in an aerial-straps number, three blue Valkyries careen over audience members’ heads as they soar to the ceiling of the big top. You can see the glee in their eyes as they fly past.
But it’s the moments of transcendence that make Cirque shows stand out. Here, those moments come thanks to a huge bowl of water that’s part of the set. A moon woman (Marie-Michelle Faber) descends from above to introduce Miranda (Iuliia Mykhailova) to the joys of wetness. (Yep, the water imagery feels pretty darn sexual.) As the women drench themselves in the water bowl and spin out of it riding a silver moon, water droplets form delicate arcs. And when Miranda does a jaw-dropping balance-and-contortion act on the side of the bowl then slips into it with Romeo (Suren Bozyan), the abandon is a perfect metaphor for erotic bliss.
Speaking of sex, Viktor Kee (Cali, the lizard man) is one of the hottest men I’ve ever seen. The guy makes a playful, insidious lizard and he is a stupendously skilled and confident juggler. But it’s the voluptuousness of his movement that really seduces.
Amaluna isn’t perfect. Those looking for the terrifying thrills of Kooza (still my favourite Cirque show) will be disappointed. Although the audience surrounds the stage in an extended semicircle, a lot of the performance is blocked as if for a proscenium, so sight lines can be bad. And, although the gymnastic work in the uneven-bars sequence is impressive, it’s not exciting enough to be the Act 1 capper. Most disappointingly, the clowns (Nathalie Claude and Josepa Plana Llort) aren’t funny. Ever.
Still, Amaluna looks fantastic, thanks largely to Mérédith Caron’s romantic costumes, which feel inspired by 17th-century European extravagance. And that butts up against the driving rock score played by a grrrl-power band.
As we were leaving the tent, my 14-year-old pal said, “You do this for a living!” I know. I know.