Since 1984, the Montreal, Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil has produced countless shows, each with their own theme and collection of agile performers for whom natural laws seemingly don’t apply. One of them is “Amaluna,” which originally premiered in 2012, and is now playing at the San Pedro LA Waterfront (under the Big Top) through May 26th. It may be the best Cirque du Soleil production to date because it so effortlessly blends high-degree-of-difficulty feats with pulse-pounding music and well-acted comic relief. No matter one’s taste in entertainment, the predominately female production (70% to be exact) has something for everyone.
Written and directed by Diane Paulus (Director of Creation is Fernand Rainville), with sets and props by Scott Pask, the look and feel of “Amaluna” is inspired by the gorgeous iridescence of the peacock. There are intertwined bamboo sticks surrounding a stage distinguished by a 25-foot-in-diameter rotating platform on which a Gothic 5,500-pound water tank ominously sits.
The narrative, which is borrowed from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” is relatively easy to follow and focuses on an island belonging to female warriors, or goddesses, who suddenly encounter a bevy of men shipwrecked on their land during a storm. One of these is Romeo, who becomes quickly enamored with the coming-of-age Miranda, whose pet lizard, Cali, grows envious of this burgeoning union. Supporting this story are the super-heroic female and male marvels, who are adorned in Mérédith Caron’s meticulously crafted costumes that would not look out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster. Lighting designer Matthieu Larivée accents the performers’ appearances, as does Eleni Uranis’ makeup design, giving the cast a spotlight as grand as their audaciousness.
The nimbleness and agility on display is second to none as a function of not only the choreographic ingenuity of Karole Armitage, Debra Brown, and Caitlan Maggs, but the featured performers who cover the entire circus playbook and more. The first of many notable acts includes two twins in gold attire on their respective unicycles, as they spin and dance in stereo, never once losing their balance even as they become a blur to the naked eye. Another is an aerial straps routine that sees three stoutly fierce women soar above the audience, and there is also one in which a group of crimson-outfitted tribal women twist, flip, and catch themselves on the uneven bars in a seamless spectacle of kinetic art.
As for the male-ensemble showings, the teeter-totter act at the start of the second half is breathtaking for not only how high the jumpers are able to ascend inside the Big Top, but for how well they navigate the danger of doing an inordinate number of mid-air rotations before coming down on the small surface area of either end of the seesaw, catapulting the next aerialist into what seems like the stratosphere. In addition, while there are some females involved, the Banquine act at the close of “Amaluna” highlights the raw strength of the males who shoulder a pyramid of their gymnastic peers and put their hands together to create a landing pad for others who are launched into their general vicinity.
Certainly, romance is in the air for Miranda and Romeo — and the performers who portray them flourish with their own solo acts. Miranda sinuously contorts her body inside the water bowl before attempting a hand-balancing routine while dripping wet when just a slip of the finger would spell catastrophe. Romeo galvanizes audience members when he climbs the Chinese Pole, orienting his body so that he’s upside down, facing the floor, before purposely loosening his grip and letting go, stopping his head short just mere inches from paralysis.
Not to mention, the juggler depicting Cali deserves great acclaim for his charisma and unreal precision, as he balances a series of balls thrown above him, over his shoulders, between his legs, and behind his back while standing on the water tank and doing a stop-motion hip-hop dance. The most incredible feat, however, and the one perhaps worthy of the price of admission by itself is demonstrated by the Zen-like discipline of Lara Jacobs Rigolo, a.k.a. the Balance Goddess, who can be heard breathing amid the gasping silence of the audience, as she stabilizes on one leg, picking up one palm leaf rib after another with her toes to construct an entire rib cage, which are held together so precariously that one large exhale would result in its toppling.
Furthermore, the comedy is undeniably enchanting in “Amaluna,” and is particularly carried out with superb laugh-out-loud finesse by Miranda’s purple-haired and full-figured nanny, Mainha, and Romeo’s rosy-cheeked manservant, Papulya. The twosome’s infatuation with each other is conveyed with high-caliber slapstick fare and sight gags right out of a Charlie Chaplin film, as they articulate their desires with hilariously exaggerated pantomiming.
Musically, “Amaluna” thrives on an invigorating rock ‘n’ roll mix of guitars, bass, cellos, and percussion composed by Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard. The numbers are performed by an all-female band, who underscore the unforgettable visuals with stimulating sounds that presage the death-defying pageantry that is to come. Finally, vocalists Amanda Zidow (as Queen Prospera, the magical sorceress) and Jenifer Aubry emote with melodically wailing passion, intensifying the proceedings.
Overall, “Amaluna” stacks up with any Cirque du Soleil production, including the ones in Las Vegas, for it succeeds on several counts with an astonishing amalgam of acrobatics, satire, and musicianship that is sure to entertain individuals of all ages. At the very least, for residents in Southern California and across the country, “Amaluna” is the one touring show not to be missed.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
For more information about “Amaluna,” please visit cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna and apply promo code 15CONCIERGE for 15% off tickets