The Passing Spectacle Vol. VIII, No. 4

Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia Takes Us on a Tour of Mexican Culture

For the past several Cirque du Soleil touring productions it was just about impossible to follow what was going on without a press kit, which of course was not available to the general public. The public was more or less on its own.  Such is not the case with Luzia which premiered in 2016 and just recently turned up in New York City staked out in the parking lot of Citi Field, the baseball Mets’ home field.

Luzia it turns out is a thoroughly engaging straight forward production packed with gorgeously designed and imaginatively  staged vignettes of Mexican life that requires no footnotes or program explanations to understand  what is going on.  It is popular entertainment at its highest level, with music, scenic design, costumes and performances combining to provide an entertainment that is both thrilling and exciting in scene after scene without a dud (not even the clowning)  to slow things down.

Inspired by the vibrant culture, history and mythology of Mexico to say nothing of the physical beauty of the landscape, director Daniele Finzi Pasca has fashioned an entertainment  continuously enchanting in its beauty and originality.  I have always been impressed by the creativity of Pasca’s productions for Cirque Eloize, (Rain and Nomad),  Cirque du Soleil (Corteo) and his own company based in Switzerland (La Verità).

At the start of the performance a parachutist drops in from the sky, and thus begins the magical journey. The parachutist, falls into a lush field of marigolds in full bloom that covers the entire stage floor.  To enter this waking dream of Mexico suggested by the show’s subtitle the parachutist turns a giant key and we are instantly transported.  The next image is that of a woman, wearing giant monarch butterfly wings,  who runs to the edge of the stage followed by a galloping metallic horse.  This is a tribute to the annual migratory voyage of the monarch butterfly from Canada to central Mexico.

This image is quickly replaced by seven acrobats dressed as hummingbirds who perform a fast-paced display of hoop diving whose difficulty is complicated by the fact that the acrobatics are performed on a set of two treadmills.  As a result, at times the hoops sometimes become moving targets and at other times the acrobats use the treadmills as a launching pad.  Because of the dizzying pace, not all of the jumps are successful while others are gasp provoking.  The final leap through a hoop approximately nine feet off the floor is accomplished by none other than Sydney (IKing) Bateman late of the St. Louis Arches.

We next find ourselves in a smoky dance hall, the perfect setting for a stunning adagio performed by three men who toss their female partner about from one to another in a non-stop series of seemingly reckless flips, tosses and daring catches that hardly allows one to catch his or her breath.

From here we move to the desert with cacti silhouetted against the burnished orb that occupies the rear of the stage and represents the setting sun. Into this scene ome two women rolling about on a pair of Cyr wheels.  Eventually they are joined by a solo woman on a swinging trapeze.  One hardly knows which of these images to focus upon.  Eventually their movements are accomplished in a heavy rain storm, a favorite effect of the director.

As the rain fall ceases a weary traveler happens upon the scene hoping to fill his canteen. His comic efforts are for naught, but he manages to amuse himself by kicking a beach ball he discovers out into the audience thus initiating a competition between himself and the audience, a nice variation on a favorite time killer in various circuses.

The idea of the beach setting is expanded in the next scene where we find ourselves at the seaside where a lifeguard is performing impressive hand balancing feats for the  bathing beauties on a buoy upon a pair of flexible canes which he builds  to an impressive height of twenty feet.

A man and a woman next appear to see who can outdo the other in manipulating a pair of footballs, which to an American audience will look like soccer balls. The sport of football is very popular in Mexico and the two artists turn the handling of a football into a dazzling art.

The thirsty traveler returns for another try at hydrating himself, and soon finds himself in the midst of a heavy downpour in which two-dimensional images are created in the rain, one of the more amazing and stunning effects created in the water.

The first act concludes as a giant Papel Picado or lantern-like structure fills the stage  and a procession reminiscent of the Day of the Dead celebrations encircles this gorgeous piece of scenery.

The second half begins with a troupe of acrobats cavorting on a pair of Chinese poles placed center stage while either four or six women (I neglected to make a note) perform pole dancing on a set of poles set on the outer ring of the stage which revolves while the center portion with the Chinese poles remain stationery, making it somewhat difficult to fully appreciate the acrobats’ work from the sides of the auditorium. In other scenes, most notably the finale, featuring a pair of Russian swings, the entire stage revolves altering our perspective most fascinatingly.

Before we get to the finale, a solo aerialist takes his trapeze higher and higher until it reaches the tipping point and makes a full circle. This rather brief interlude is followed by an enchanting display on aerial straps above a pool of water, which the aerialist dips into periodically, bringing a spray of water with him each time he emerges. It is a fascinating visual effect enhanced enormously by the appearance of a puppet of a life-size jaguar that interacts with the aerialist most charmingly in a convincingly  realistic fashion.

A speed juggler brings little that is novel to his presentation, but his performance is accompanied by a set of marimbas that sets the pace for the juggling and proves most exhilarating.

Contortion is not one of my favorite circus acts but in this case the young man, Alexsei Goloborodko, projects enormous grace between poses such that the act takes on an eerie (if shocking) sense of beauty.  The act elicits gasps  of astonishment, amazed that the human form could be twisted into such shapes.

In the final act, already alluded to, nine artists soar through space as they are projected from the launching pad of one swing to land on the swinging pad across the stage.  It is surely the most exciting and daring display of the production, sending its human projectiles thirty-three feet into the air where they execute various acrobatic maneuvers.  And the fact that the revolving stage allows us to enjoy the action from various angles heightens the thrills even more.

The show ends with an enormous fiesta as the entire cast in their various costumes gathers around a large dining table to celebrate the wonders of Mexico with one last toast.

The music by composer Simon Carpenter jumps playfully from style to style. It is derived from various distinctive Latin American flavors, an amalgam of ancient and modern sounds infused with the brassy notes of tubas and trumpets and the suave melodies of the Spanish guitar all driven by the relentless percussion . It reflects the buoyant rhythms of cumbia, a music genre close to salsa dominated by guitars, accordions and percussion, as well as the lively rhythms of bandas, the traditional music of traveling brass bands.  Some flamenco-based music from the Gulf coast region is also incorporated.  The music provides enormous energy and atmospheric beauty.