May 30, 2014

in Circus

Circus, Performance

by Cirque du Soleil

Directed by Diane Paulus

Marine Industrial Park, Boston, MA
May 30 – July 6, 2014

Guy Laliberté (Founder and Creative Guide); Gilles Ste-Croix (Artistic Guide); Fernand Rainville (Director of Creation); Scott Pask (Set and Props Designer); Mérédith Caron (Costume Designer); Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard aka Bob & Bill (Composers and Musical Directors); Jacques Boucher (Sound Designer); Matthieu Larivée (Lighting Designer); Karole Armitage (Choreographer); Rob Bollinger (Acrobatic Performance Designer); Fred Gérard (Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer); Patricia Ruel (Props Designer); Eleni Uranis (Makeup Designer); Randy Weiner (Dramaturge); Debra Brown (Acrobatic Choreographer); Caitlan Maggs (Acrobatic Choreographer); Rigolo Swiss Nouveau Cirque (“Sanddornbalance” Act)

Romeo on the Chinese Pole in 'Amaluna'

Romeo on the Chinese Pole
in “Amaluna”
Photo: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

A beautifully stylized circus performance loosely modeled on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The proprietress of this blue-green world of flying characters is named Prospera, not a far throw from the name of the heroic magician Prospero in the island kingdom of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Nor is the story in Amaluna too far from Shakespeare’s though there is much less of it.

Prospera’s daughter, Miranda (the same name as in the Shakespeare) is the romantic heroine, and the young suitor (here called Romeo for some reason) is washed ashore during a storm with his fellow sailors and a clownish captain.

Cali juggling in 'Amaluna'

Cali juggling
in “Amaluna”
Photo: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

There is also a Caliban-like character (here named Cali) who hovers at the beginning of the show playing with a bag of popcorn stolen presumably from a person in the audience. He wears a great lumbering tail and turns out, later on, to be a hell of a juggler.

Two clowns, Jeeves, who, as the lumbering captain, arrives with the sailors in the storm, and Deeda, Miranda’s childhood nurse, an elderly Swiss Milkmaid type, provide some humorous interludes.

Beautifully designed and choreographed and full of heart-stopping acrobatics, sometimes at frightening heights, this show is its own tempestuous display of color, dance and stunts. The costumes are stunningly chromatic and all the movements are sleek and graceful, lending a particularly snazzy feel to the show.

As in other Cirque du Soleil productions, the uniformity of the design motifs, the move away from pure serialized stunt performance as in more traditional circuses to a smoothly flowing and thematically continuous context for the stunts, lends the show an aesthetic coherence that other circuses lack.

As well, the individual performers are absorbed into the aura of the show itself. We can identify the roles, but it involves a considerable research project to figure out who these performers are and where they come from. The intent obviously is to make the theme of the show central and to draw attention away from the performing individuals and teams who contribute to the effort.

After a lovely electric-fan driven introduction of a piece of shimmering cloth tossed in the winds, there were some incredible peacocks that made the scene briefly before giving way to a band of characters who juggled some kind of twirly things that looked like huge flexible batons. When they switched to the same gizmos but with lights on the ends the act took on another aquatically phospholuminescent quality. As though this were not enough, someone started swinging this super-baton gizmo while standing on the feet of someone else who was himself standing on his hands.

Forceful music accompanied most of the goings on, heavy on the heavy metal end of things. At one point a blue cello – quite dramatically cool – descended and Prospera took it up to play. Though the band was mostly located at the back of the stage, the musicians came out front from time to time to do their thing, with vividly present bongos supporting their embracing sound.

There was a whole bunch of going up and down to the top of the circus tent – quite high – on fast moving ropes, with a lot of dangling.

Miranda at the Waterbowl in 'Amaluna'

Miranda at the Waterbowl
in “Amaluna”
Photo: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Miranda did a spectacular balancing, contortionist routine, diving in and out of the centrally positioned pool of water, then quickly wiping herself dry before doing another land-based stretch or aerial maneuver. At one point she did an unbelievable backbend that wound up with her diving into this vessel so precipitously that one immediately prayed she wouldn’t break her neck on the bottom.

After the intermission there were a bunch of guys who did a high jumping routine off a super seesaw on which they bounded from various angles. Occasionally, they careened off an inclined plane that hovered over the seesaw. They went very high and seemed to be having a good time.

Perhaps the most interestingly attenuated act was an incredibly quiet and breathtaking construction feat by one of the few specifically identified outside contributors, the Rigolo Swiss Nouveau Cirque with its so-called Sanddornbalance routine. A single woman character quietly and deliberately picked up, with her feet, what seemed like fifteen or so large shaped sticks and carefully constructed a fishlike entity that miraculously got balanced first on her head then on a single point of a pole before she poofed it away with a single flick of her wrist. It was a tense and gripping construction project and ultimately shocking that the thing fell apart so easily. The woman who did it had a big smile at the end, understandably.

Romeo turned out to be a great pole climber. He ran up the thing without too much assistance and wound up sliding down head first holding on only by his legs, stopping precipitously before cracking his head on the ground. I’d seen something much like this is Psy, the show done at ArtsEmerson by the smaller but also very talented Montreal Circus, Les Sept Doigts de la Main, a couple of years ago.

Though everything is thematically tied together as far as design goes, there is not too much narrative itself in Amaluna, but Miranda and Romeo do get it together and provide a little romantic touch. After all is said and done – the circus stunts, choreography and design stuff itself seems well tended to by the resident staff at Cirque du Soleil. I did wonder what part of it was left for Diane Paulus to direct. Whatever that is, the show turns out to be a great entertainment. It is also nice to know that Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, has a corner on Boston’s Tempests this season; she has been overseeing the wonderfully magical production of The Tempest now running at the ART.

All of the acrobatics were astounding, and the choreography was beautiful. Cali’s juggling was phenomenal. The sound was a bit brash and the two main clowns made a good attempt at humor though that was not the strongest part of the show.

Cirque du Soleil, to its credit, advertises an interesting and important health-related environmentalist message in association with this water-oriented show. Master of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté, has founded an organization One Drop to help bring attention to global water issues and the effects of these on public health.


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