The holidays approach and with them comes that wonder of spectacle and glamour, the Cirque du Soleil. The Big Top tent, which at 62 feet tall and 167 feet in diameter, weighs in as ginormous and is housed with the village that houses its performers and technicians at San Francisco’s Oracle Park lot.
Once you step inside the Big Top you enter a world far from the sawdust and rings of Barnum & Bailey’s circus. Huge blue and green tendrils reach toward the sky somewhere beyond the canvas tent and metal towers that operate the mechanisms behind the Cirque’s fantasy world. A large transparent half globe of filled with water dominates the center stage.
In this concept of an island, water and land interweave. And the inhabitants are endowed with supernatural strength and flexibility. Every creature is an acrobat on this imaginary island of Amaluna.
Like most of the Cirque’s extravagant performances, there is a story. This one, devised by writer-director, Diane Paulus, who has directed several Broadway productions and won a Tony for the 2013 revival of Pippin, uses Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a basic motif and then peppers it with bits from Romeo and Juliet and a host of gods and goddesses.
The ruler of the island is Prospera, an instrument-wielding singer who has called together a host of spirits to celebrate the coming of age of her daughter Miranda. Men in fish-like fans and peacock costumes appear and disappear into the shadows. Two unicyclists in feathery gold lamé balance and pirouette around each other. An aerialist hangs from the center of the tent, and like the moon turns in wondrous circles, spangled in the silver. Amazon warriors in red and black swing on uneven parallel bars. Miranda does handstands on the sides of the fishbowl only to drop into the water, spraying bright drops of water everywhere.
A group of men appear dropped on mid stage in a net, as if fished from the sea. Among them is Romeo, who falls madly in love with Miranda and she in turn is eager to accept his love, giving him a crystal globe as a token. The enamored couple danced on the edge of the fishbowl, eager to dive in. When Romeo peeled off his shirt, the audience gasped. What a torso! What definition! How many hours has he spent at the gym? Pass me the popcorn!
But Miranda is stolen away by her pet lizard man and primo juggler, Cali, a mischievous but ultimately benign version of Shakespeare’s Caliban. She is carried off into the upper reaches of the tent, which is darker than the night sky. What’s a boy to do then but to follow, struggling skyward in a pole dance of daredevil highs and chilling lows.
My favorite act was the teeterboard, where the shipwrecked men are thrown into the sky, looking for a moment as if they might not fall back to earth, but rather would hang there suspended forever.
One of the quieter moments was the Goddess of Balance, an act in which a heap of bone- and frond-like objects are carefully suspended into a something resembling an Alexander Calder mobile.
But for the most part the performance and audience were loud, enthusiastic and wild wild wild.
The program says that Amaluna is meant to celebrate the strength of women, and Cirque confirms that the cast is 70 percent female, an unusually high proportion for the organization, or for circuses in general. And the program does indeed celebrate the body — women’s and men’s — in all its youthful vigor, strength and excess.
— Jaime Robles
Amaluna continues at Oracle Park through January 12. For tickets and information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna or call 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783).