LUZIA: A WAKING DREAM OF MEXICO
By: Samuel L. Leiter
May 8, 2019: The Circus of the Sun, better known as Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian entertainment machine responsible for dozens of individually titled and themed spinoff spectacles under the big top of its brand name, is back. This time it’s Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico, perfectly situated in a circus tent at Citi Field, in Flushing Meadows, and inspired by Mexican myths and culture.
This beautifully produced, gorgeously costumed (by Giovanni Buzzi) extravaganza of clownery, acrobatics, dance, and special effects premiered in 2016. Written by Daniele Finzi Pasca (who also directed) and his late wife, Julie Hamelin Finzi, it employs remarkable acrobatic choreography by Ededio Moreno Barata, Debra Brown, Sylvia Gertrúdix González. All is coordinated with the music, both hand-clappingly rhythmic and hauntingly evocative, composed by Simon Carpentier.
Like most Cirque shows, its theme is essentially an excuse for visual splendors; Mexico is certainly ripe for such exploitation. It begins with a clown (Fool Koller) freefalling in slow motion from the top of the tent, even losing his parachute on the way, but landing safely in a Mexican field of yellow marigolds. After turning a huge key embedded in the earth, he encounters exotic sights and sounds as he finds his way.
Set designer Eugenio Caballero has created a huge, sun-like orb suspended at the rear of the huge stage, which is surrounded on three sides by circus-like seating. Brilliantly illuminated in both muted and flaming colors by lighting designer Martin Labrecque, it’s also a screen on which projection designer Johnny Ranger flashes his many lovely images, including birds in flight.
Projections also seem the source of the magical images that seem to shape the cascading showers that descend, water being a visual theme throughout. Sometimes the downpour looks like spirals, sometimes simply the background for any number of fantastical flora and fauna images.
Puppets, particularly an immense silver horse and a similarly oversized jaguar, with expressively articulated parts manipulated by a team of inside and outside puppeteers, constitute a major part of the experience. Shortly after the clown reaches earth, we’re treated to the astonishing image of the giant horse galloping realistically toward us, his movement in place aided by a treadmill (like the show’s turntable within a turntable, an essential part of many effects). He follows behind a similarly racing woman, from whom spread enormous butterfly wings, their flaring movement helped by others holding them aloft with narrow rods.
As usual, one can take or leave the mimic fooling of Cirque’s clowns, who need mainly to engage the audience at length during the scene shifts (or, as here, mopping up). The tall, gangly Koller does nicely with his various bits. One has him speaking only with a whistle as he arranges a mock game using a beach ball with opposing sides of the audience. In another, a technically ingenious rain curtain sends down shafts of water to befuddle him. However, he’s nowhere near as hilarious as several hysterically shrieking theatregoers few rows from me seemed to think.
Let’s face it, though. We go to Cirque du Soleil for those muscularly ideal acrobats, capable of doing the most awesome things in midair, the jugglers, and other masters of physicality whose years of preparation make possible the impossible. Even those who’ve seen similar acts before will marvel at the audacious ways the familiar routines look fresher (and more risky) than ever.
These include the projectile-like plunging through hoops, set higher and higher, even while flipping backward; the tossing up, down, and around of a woman by three men as if she were little more than a small bag of sand; the rotation of Cyr wheels, even in a slippery deluge, while a trapeze aerialist, also being rained on, morphs from one dangerous movement to another; and a lifeguard’s breathtaking balancing act on a beach set reminiscent of a 1920s Mexican silent movie.
Then we have a man and woman competing at how dexterously they can handle a soccer ball; a hallucinogenic pole dance you won’t soon be doing at home; a man in a Mexican wrestler’s mask looping the loop on a memorably elongated swing; a godlike, long-haired man flying around on aerial straps in a downpour as a jaguar prowls nearby; a juggler spinning up to seven metal pins at an impossible speed (the audience forgave his two mishaps when I attended); and a pair of platform swings circling on a turntable as performers twist, turn, and flip high overhead while soaring from one swing to the other in masterful feats of timing.
Perhaps the most unforgettable sight comes three acts before the finale when a slender contortionist demonstrates his incredible, snakelike flexibility in twisting himself into so many pretzel-like shapes you might want to sprinkle him with salt and add some mustard. His act, which requires considerable strength and balancing skill, even allows him to touch the back of his head with his pelvis. I saw it; I still don’t believe it.
Luzia is perfect family entertainment. There are multiple concessions in its lobby on which to spend your money, and the ambience is loose and laid back. The bathroom facilities, however, are in temporary housings outside the tent and, if it’s raining (as it was when I went), be sure to take your umbrella as there’s no protection from the elements when the single-occupancy toilets are in use. If Cirque du Soleil, with all its technical expertise, could solve this problem, it would be their greatest trick of all.
Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico
Cirque du Soleil
Citi Field, Flushing Meadows, NYC
Through June 9, 2019
Photography: Matt Beard