With a total of 44 performers (representing a whopping 19 nationalities), and 115 cast and crew personnel overall, Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia – A Waking Dream of Mexico” is another resounding two-act entry in a long line of stellar productions with an undoubtedly international appeal. “Luzia” — which can be experienced through February 11th at the Le Grand Chapiteau (big white top) in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, followed by a run in Costa Mesa from February 21st through March 18th — pays homage to the past and present of Mexico with a glowingly beautiful and thrilling escapade.
The sacrosanctity of ancient Aztec/Mayan and Mexican folklore and mythology is dutifully recognized in the poetic “Luzia,” which is performed on a thrust stage in the “blue box.” Artistic director Gracie Valdez, co-writer and director Daniele Finzi Pasca, associate director Brigitte Poupart, director of creation Patricia Ruel, co-writer Julie Hamelin Finzi, composer Simon Carpentier, costume designer Giovanna Buzzi, set designer Eugenio Caballero, and puppet designer Max Humphries, among others, have collaborated to create a resplendently bright-hued and percussively aural odyssey into the surrealistic unknown and known elements of Mexico.
A gigantic shimmering disk that can rotate on an axis and invoke the entire spectrum of colors hangs above in the background as an ode to primeval calendars, where it symbolizes the sun and the moon to triumphant and haunting effect. The outer circle of the stage also revolves and becomes rife with large-scale costumes and puppetry representing a jaguar, horse, armadillos, butterflies, hummingbirds, iguanas, and more, as they are wondrously emblematic of Mesoamerican tradition. The music, too, inclusive of brass instruments, marimbas, maracas (played by astounding and fully autonomous miniature robots that also water 5,000 onstage yellow marigolds during the pre-show) elicit familiar Latin-American rhythms which are supported by poignant singing.
Furthermore, water and its connection to the Mayan afterlife is incorporated breathtakingly in the form of an Etch-A-Sketch-making waterfall. It drains through 94,657 holes into a cenote, or a cistern, which is made up of 350 liters, maintained at 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and is used during a jaw-dropping aerial straps routine. A male gymnast representing a demigod magically flips, torques, and rises above the sinkhole often using only one arm, before doing 360-degree turns into the basin, with only his long-stringed hair touching the water, as droplets diffuse out into the observer’s vantage point.
The aerial straps spectacular is one of 17 incredible “scenes” or performances (including the prologue) that is framed around the narrative of an unwitting traveler who parachutes down to the stage shortly after the audience is told to prepare for the flight of its life. The traveler brings much-needed delight and levity, which begins when he turns a gargantuan key and finds himself entranced and immersed in an imaginative series of events. A recurring theme and joke revolves around the traveler filling his canteen with water, but where the performer playing the traveler really shines is in his seemingly extemporaneous interaction with the crowd, to whom he impressively vocalizes his speech and clearly communicates using merely a whistle.
Though, as with any successful Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, there is amazing athleticism to complement the slapstick comedy. Choreographers Edesia Moreno Barata, Debra Brown, and Sylvia Gertrúdix González deserve ample credit for their contribution to the thematic and acrobatic artistry. For instance, in Act One, the hoop-diving on treadmills routine, with performers dressed as hummingbirds, is undoubtedly a highlight. As if flipping and leaping through stacked hoops wasn’t enough, the talented athletes precisely time their steps in accordance with the speed of the treadmills. The Adagio sequence, too, is as awe-striking to watch as it is a sultry painting come to life. Male “porters” use a female acrobat as almost a volley, as she is thrown, caught, and manages to abruptly come to a standstill, in both a sitting position and in split-legged form. She does this in perfect time, with nary a moment where she finds herself off-balanced or uncomposed.
The Cyr wheel (a massive hula hoop) and trapeze sequence, with one female performer harnessing each one, occurs synchronously at times, evoking an uncanny sense of equilibrium and harmony. Even more so, the addition of “rain” amplifies the inspirational meaning of the movement, as the performers become empowered and inspired by the marvelous waterfall. That’s not even all from Act One, as majestic corporeal harmony makes way for agile feats of strength via hand-balancing on canes as much as twenty feet in the air by a performer dressed as a lifeguard. This is depicted on a movie set, reminiscent of 1920s Mexican film tradition, which also includes lithe male swimmers wearing 850 tiny mirrors each. We are then astonishingly brought to the immediacy of the adrenaline-fueled present with a male/female fútbol dance that culminates with the male athlete spinning a soccer ball on a wooden stick in his mouth as he slowly reclines his torso in Matrix-like fashion.
Besides the aforementioned aerial straps section, Act Two builds upon the prior athletic marvels by gradually upping the ante – literally. The scenarios become more precarious and nail-biting, as attendees can’t help but gasp and hold their breath as the performers try to ostensibly defy physical gravity. For example, during a giant-sized swing sequence, a performer dressed as a masked luchador (in honor of Mexico’s Lucha Libre wrestling) does full revolutions forwards and backwards – up and over the front row and high bar — while standing on the swing and nearly grazing the ceiling with his feet. It is an exhilarating and exuberant sight that is invigorating to watch.
Certainly, juggling is always a crowd favorite. In this case, the male artist who juggles as many as six pins in dumbfoundingly quick succession, fires up the spectators’ passion for the performing arts, who can’t help but clap in his direction. The juggler even gets to return the favor to the audience members by getting up close and personal with them as he feverishly runs through aisles and rows, all the while expertly juggling. In the same vein, the male contortionist, who bends his back and head up through his legs, effortlessly threads the needle with his body, as his lower half seems to be independently operated from his upper half. It is, without question, a seeing-is-believing moment for how inhuman it seems.
The last performance is perhaps the most rousing as it involves the most number of male and female performers who face each other on opposite swings. The swing-to-swing festivities can be viewed from all angles as the stage pivots. The athletes are catapulted from one swing to the other, reaching an apex as high as 33 feet, as their bodies are corkscrewed with infinite momentum prior to mind-warpingly landing like a feather. It is a celebration of teamwork, for which the Cirque du Soleil aerialists have worked diligently to make look as easy as they do.
The integrity and partnership of the cast and crew is a microcosm of the worldly appeal and inclusivity that the Quebec-based organization stands for. For this reason, “Luzia” ranks high in the pantheon of Cirque du Soleil shows, and deserves to be a mainstay like its Las Vegas counterparts, as it educates as much as it entertains. Mexico, and all its national and cultural glory, is in the limelight here, which garners not only a newfound respect for a country and its people, but an admiration for Cirque du Soleil, which continues its creative streak by manifesting colorful and captivating visions.
For more information about Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia,” please visit cirquedusoleil.com/luzia