In Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna,” it’s the women who astound—through January 12, 2014, under the Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park, through January 12, 2014
Dazzling, daring, elegant— Cirque du Soleil’s newest touring show, Amaluna, is a celebration of female power that invites the audience to a mysterious island governed by muscle-toned Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. Amaluna opened last Friday under the Grand Chapiteau at San Francisco’s AT&T Park where it runs through January 12 and then moves on to San Jose on January 22. If you’re looking for some excitement to stave off the daylight savings/winter time blues, Amaluna is well worth crossing the bridge for. It features an enthralling combination of art and agility-testing acrobatics that involve legs and arms and whole bodies being supported in unnatural positions by nothing more than a long rung of twisted rope, a thin bar or a fellow human as a pedestal—all beautifully lit and staged.
The poetic title expresses it all, a fusion of the words for “mother” and “moon.” And while it’s heavy on the XX chromosome, Amaluna is at its core a love story about all forms of love— between family, lovers and friends.
Loosely based on “The Tempest,” Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” and ancient Greek mythology, Amaluna is directed by Diane Paulus, the talk of the town. She’s a leading Broadway producer and the artistic director of Harvard University’s American Repertory Theatre, who recently netted a Tony Award for her Broadway revival of “Pippin” and whose Porgy and Bess, which opened at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre a few days ago, is getting rave reviews.
Amaluna transforms Shakespeare’s wizard Prospero into Shamanic Queen Prospera (Julie McInnes) whose daughter, Miranda, on the brink of womanhood, is her utmost priority. For kicks though, satin-clad Prospera plays her midnight blue Cello like a rocker from Heart. You’d never believe that energetic McInnes, a 14-year Cirque veteran, is 52 and played in the orchestra pit in O and Ka, as she owns this stage.
Having been brought up on a remote island where female Goddesses and Amazons use their powers freely, daughter Miranda (contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova) dreams big dreams. Early in the show, she slowly twists and balances herself impossibly on one arm on a pole on a platform atop a hot tub sized glass water bowl, wearing a bikini that miraculously manages to stay put as she moves through a series of poses that will leave yoga practitioners transfixed. The tub, alight in green and blue, is just one of Scott Peck’s visually hypnotic sets in this dream-like performance.
When Prospera conjures a fierce sea storm that summons men to their island so that her daughter can come of age, Miranda is smitten with buff Romeo (Evgeny Kurkin). Romeo sports his strength in an astounding Chinese pole climbing act where he supports himself horizontally in mid-air, making it look effortless, and then releases his grip sliding head down towards the floor only to brake himself inches before impending crash by gripping his legs and stopping cold as if someone had flipped a huge off switch.
But Cali (Victor Kee), after Caliban in The Tempest—Miranda’s friend and confidant before Romeo appeared—is determined to prevent Romeo from winning her. Half-lizard, half human, Cali sports a huge and creepy alligator tail, dreamed up by costume wizard Mérédith Caron who intentionally labored to give each of her elaborate costumes an emotional resonance as well. As Cali slithers, preens and twists this phallic tail in every which direction, even juggling balls off of it; we are thoroughly repulsed.
Alas, the path to true love is not an easy one and the couple faces many obstacles along the way which characters, like a trio of dazzling aerial Valkyrie warriors, help subdue. Cirque performances are known for being more about performance art and less about story. This is also true of Amaluna, which is being billed as more story-oriented but the actual story arc is pretty hard to follow amidst the spectacle of bodies in motion, gorgeous sets and bold music. No worries! It’s all so engrossing that it encourages your mind to create its own internal stories while watching.
The show-stopper was a quiet and meditative moment when Prospera brings Romeo and Miranda to witness the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) ritualistically create a world in equilibrium. Accompanied by nothing but the sound of her own breath and the beating hearts of the audience, she builds a huge Calder-like mobile from thirteen palm leaf ribs that are all held in balance by the weight of a feather. Jacobs’ movements are slow, deliberate and almost meditative as she concentrates all her attention on creating this breathtaking 45 pound sculpture before our eyes. The audience was so enthralled, you could have heard a pin drop…but that’s what great art does, its touches our soul and takes our breath away. As she removes the smallest piece, everything disintegrates and the young couple’s trials begin.
Not all of the show is so enthralling. I could have done without the clowns, especially a ridiculous scene where two clowns fall in love and deliver clown babies on stage which then roll all over the place, even off the stage. Ouch! Overall though, Amaluna delivers two and a half hours of pure escapism. Once inside the big top, one’s world changes immediately as the outside world and its worries fade. The energetic and uplifting vibe starts in the bustling lobby where you are offered peacock feathers and all sorts of treats (which you pay for, except on opening night). I was delighted with “Tempest,” a delicious special limited edition ice cream flavor developed by Humphry Slocombe and Cirque—crème fraîche-blueberry swirl—which will also be available in-store at Humphry Slocombe (2790 Harrison Street, San Francisco) beginning November 13, 2013 (while supplies last). The huge main tent has comfortable seating that affords a great view from almost everywhere. Of course, the sheer physicality of the performance is best enjoyed from as close as possible but no matter where you are, you’ll be dazzled.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, one intermission
Details: Through January 12, 2014 under the Cirque du Soleil Big Top, AT&T Park, San Francisco; January 22-March 2, 2014 under the Big Top at the Taylor Street Bridge, San Jose. Tickets: $45-$270. Info: 800-450-1480, www.cirquedusoleil.com
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