SAN FRANCISCO Cirque du Soleil brings wonder and magic to the holiday season in its newest show, Amaluna. The acrobats and muscians masterfully convey a coming-of-age tale set on a mythic island.
As stage lights come up, goddesses gather to honor a maiden’s passage to adulthood. Her mother, Prospera presides over the rite, invoking thunderous music from an all-women rock band. The ensuing storm sinks a ship off shore and the survivors seek safety on the island. They arrive on stage subdued, netted and under guard. The maiden locks eyes with a handsome sailor and asks her mother to release him.
The shipwrecked sailors aren’t the only ones stirring things up on Amaluna. Unruly lizards, peacocks and fairies lifted from Shakespeare’s The Tempest also inhabit the island.
Cali, the maiden’s pet lizard chafes at being ignored. He tosses her a red ball, but she is distracted.
In lyrically beautiful movements, she frolics on the rim of a water-filled glass, inverting and contorting her sinuous body. She dives in. The young sailor discovers her and they gaze at each other through the glass. He joins her in the water. They entwine and innocently kiss.
As the rite resumes, Prospera arranges a demonstration to teach her daughter the importance of balance. The performer wordlessly conveys not only balance but the essential lessons of life. She extends a toe to a woodpile and picks up a long curved branch and—with excruciating slowness—raises it to her hand. What is she doing? You have no idea but the intensity of her trained focus sends shivers through the audience.
She balances one branch on another, creating a wooden structure a few feet at a time. The audience hears her modulated breathing through the stage microphone.
Bring binoculars to observe what happens next. All the branches in place, she balances the 20-foot-long structure on the tip of a slender post and…….walks away. It hangs on a tip. When the applause dies, she returns, removes a branch, and they fall with a crash. A woodpile once again but one that has expressed its potential.
The menacing swish of Cali’s tail alerts the audience to the next act. He seizes his rival, imprisoning him in the glass goblet.
This capture prompts Cali to juggle balls with frenetic abandon. He juggles the balls with every part of his body. Though the balls are constantly released from the tent-top platform, he easily keeps up. Crouching on all fours, he rolls white balls along his spine, a triumphant smile never leaving his lips.
The audience experience is one of escalating amazement. The feats involve no tricks, only an athletic gift honed by years of dedicated practice.
The show under the big tent is an athletic and artistic effort. Mérédith Caron’s costumes bring the fantasy characters to life. The costume and character are inseparable. “One calls out to the other,” she says. “But above all, it is the artist that I dress.”
The 52 cast members hail from Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, France, Greece, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For the first time, the cast is 70 percent female.
Amaluna plays in San Francisco, then moves to San Jose on January 22, 2014. It is also playing in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Atlanta. The website lists performances details for Amaluna and the Cirque shows touring on every continent.
—by Donna Peck. Photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil