Montréal; 3rd June 2016
Entering the turreted world of tents that forms the Cirque du Soleil pop-up kingdom on the waterfront of Old Montréal, we pass under bright yellow arches of truss, adorned with the butterflies that form one of Luzia‘s recurring motifs of beauty and the propagation of life. The show is subtitled ‘A Waking Dream of Mexico’, and sits in the realm of magic realism that latin authors conjure so well. A red-nosed squeaking maitre’d burbles about, crowds of business people sip champagne in canvas VIP rooms, and beyond is the main big top with its integrated foyer.
Toilet cubicles are no better and no worse than I would expect from any touring circus, although with water saving flush modes, as befits the One Drop water aid campaign of CdS founder Guy Laliberté. The effort and expense put into beautifying everything else, however, is considerable. Even the popcorn and nachos are brightly coloured!
Past the rows of concession and merchandise stands, bars, interactive selfie stands and display cases with ornate headdresses from previous shows (in colours that complement the Luzia scheme, naturellement), we enter the ring. A clockwork key that could have come straight out of Oz sits amid banks of yellow marigolds. A large metal disc hangs, dominating the back of the ring, reflecting the colour of the flowers below and shining through violet into turquoise, dotted with projected flecks of firefly gold.
A pair of hummingbirds and metallic lawn mowing robots reiterate the blend of mechanical and organic beauty we should expect çe soir. The costumed hummingbirds flit amongst us, as hummingbirds do. I feel like that skunk in Bambi suddenly reinvented as a flower. Make up in this show is kept to sparkle and dust blue bands across the artists’ eyes, some barely glimmers, others, like the singers’, deeper. Importantly, we’re allowed to see the performers’ very human expressions.
Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Luzia’ IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
Suddenly the robots have maracas and a more festive music kicks in, (musicians hidden, as they are for most of the show). A man floats from the top of the tent in a skydive that doesn’t go according to plan. He finds himself in a world bursting at the seams with joy and gorgeousness, and we watch as scenes formulate around him, unbound by standard physics of time and place.
‘Luzia’ by Cirque du Soleil IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
Luzia invokes puppetry expertise from Max Humphries, in a giant metal horse, or a drinking jaguar, both manipulated by three animateurs. It summons water artistry that shows birds, and plants and animals in illustrated sheets of spray. It harnesses the clowning expertise and poetic vision of director Daniele Finzi Pasca, and the talents of a list of a range of 15 other credited creatives.
As usual with CdS shows, it’s much harder to find out information about the performers. Even the PR team have so far been unable to provide a cast list, over a week after the performance. As so often with smaller productions, I have resorted to scouring facebook to try and give credit where it’s due.
Alexey Goloborodko in ‘Luzia’ IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
Because there are some remarkable acts that go into the Luzia tapestry, none more so than that of contortionist Aleksey Goloborodko. Repeatedly seeing anyone sit on their own head is special, and more usually seen from female performers, but it’s the sideways twists Goloborodko adds to his moves that give this extreme backbending real magic. To finish off he squeezes his head and shoulders through his own legs from behind in a Ruppel Bend, then lowers his chest to the floor. This is a must-see act of phenomenal flexibility.
Rudolf Janecek in ‘Luzia’ IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
The speed juggling of Rudolf Janecek is also notable as he tosses his gleaming chrome effect clubs so fast they seem like fireworks under the lights, catching a fourth and a fifth club that fall from the cuppola of the tent straight into his outstretched hand, and winning us all with his engaging presence. Veering away from the common finale trick of a high number of objects, Janecek instead harnesses the tension provided by the accompanying xylophones to inject a three club toss with a backwards somersault and a pirouette.
Laura Biondo and Abou Traore in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Luzia’ IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
Luzia does an excellent job of wrapping contemporary and traditional Mexican cultural references into its bubble, and a scene that turns a game of football into a mating ritual is especially pleasing. While Laura Biondo and Abou Traore attempt to out-trick each other centre stage their crews interact behind, and spotting one of the girls tease a male counterpart with a football for a pregnant belly is a delightful detail.
‘Luzia’, by Cirque du Soleil IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
Some of the most memorable images are those that involve the moving water features of Oscar-winning Eugenio Cabellero’s set. The sweltering picture of Angelica Bongiovanni and Rachel Salzman on spinning Cyr wheels while Emily Nicole Tucker’s dance trapeze provides its own circling counterpoint is given an extra edge when their equipment becomes slick with rain. Benjamin Courtnay performs on sodden aerial straps that lift him in and out of the drinking hole onstage, his power equal to that of the jaguar he shares it with, twisting around on one arm in a series of shoulder dislocations, or dipping the tips of his hair into the pool as he spins over and over on the spot.
Hoop diving on a moving treadmill in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Luzia’ IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
Another technical elaboration on a traditional act is the double treadmill that messes with the temporal senses during the hoop-diving act that launches us into the world of Luzia behind Shelli Epstein’s iconic butterfly. A troupe of seven roseate hummingbirds fly through verdantly shining hoops, with the shifting dynamics of the treadmill beneath them lending rapid changes of pace that add a hallucinatory air to the spectacle.
Eric Koller in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Luzia’ IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
Musicians pop in and out of scenes with members of the ensemble, sometimes dressed in tin fishheads, or wound through elaborate animal puppets. The soulful voice of Majo Cornejo carries us through much of Simon Carpentier’s vibrant score, her florally flounced dress blooming before our eyes. The scenes are also woven together by the wandering presence of naturally faced clown Eric Koller, who communicates with modern gestures and contemporary physicality that makes his humour very relatable. His Dutch stature helps him stand out as the unwitting tourist in this land of natural magic, and he is an easy bridge between us and the fantasy that unfolds.
Shelli Epstein in ‘Luzia’ IMAGE: Alexandre Galliez
Luzia is a show of passionate visuals, a homage to life, love and beauty. The Mexican tourist board must be thrilled. In the UK we only get to see CdS’s touring shows several years after initial creation, when ideas are no longer so timely or fresh, and we miss out on the tented environment. This show is an explosion of joy that proves the megalithic company still have what it takes to create a profoundly touching, finger-on-the-pulse spectacle.