Cirque du Soleil’s LUZIA: A Waking Dream of Mexico made its San Jose premiere on February 9th. The production, inspired by vibrant Mexican culture, pushed the imagination’s concepts of impossibility. It elevates the jaw-dropping talents of its performers by entangling them in a gossamer web of light, color, and water. Most of the performance bursts with such joy and exuberance that the audience cannot help but feel both awake and involved in the uplifting, sometimes unsettling dream that is LUZIA.
The magic of LUZIA begins long before the first act. Immediately upon entering the yellow-and-gold bigtop under at the Taylor Street Bridge, the air electrifies with the presence of performers on stilts, people dressed in Dia de los Muertos regalia, and a sudden abundance of bright orange flower crowns worn by audience and performers alike. The circus, unlike more traditional forms of performance, allows the spectacle to integrate with the spectators. Birds of paradise chase each other through the audience as viewers settle into their seats, occasionally brushing a purple-winged arm along a row of heads snacking on popcorn. Such playfulness continues with Erick Fool Koller’s expressive prologue, but quickly becomes much deeper as the staged performance begins. A woman dressed as a monarch butterfly, enormous silk wings flying behind her, runs on the treadmill-like runway that takes up the circular stage. A puppet horse, majestic in its silver metal body, gallops behind her in time to epic music. From this introduction, the world of LUZIA establishes itself as far more than a colorful circus.
This is not to say the campier circus acts do not delight. The canes segment, performed by Ugo Laffolay and his wiggling eyebrows, has an especially endearing conceit. The base of his strength and balance is a buoy, as a bevy of retro-beachgoers swim and fawn over him–but it’s all part of an old-fashioned film shoot! Rudolf Janecek juggles with focus and charm that draws in the audience so that the giant xylophone and alligator-headed musicians behind him almost go unnoticed.
But the stand-out moments of LUZIA are the breathtakingly beautiful ones. During the adagio performance, the alligator-heads make their first appearance among an ensemble of performers in formal wear and metal animal parts. The graceful arches of Angelica Bongiovonni’s performance in front of a bevy of Kafka-esque armadillos and lizards creates a visual that is both inviting and surprising.
During the cyr wheel and trapeze act, the textured circular backdrop transforms into a sun that seems to pulse along with the music’s rhythmic breathing and drums. As the three women glow through their performances, the ceiling opens up to a cascading waterfall. Drops of water spin off bodies and hair under warm light in a scene that haunts with its beauty. The straps act later in the show has a similar effect, as a Tarzan-like Benjamin Courtenay befriends a jaguar at a blue-lit, vine-lined oasis pool. This style of scene, as well as the anthropomorphization of plants and animals native to Mexico (including some sassy cacti), lend a mythological quality to the show. The masts and poles-performers turned treefrogs provide a rainbow of wonderment, and Majo Cornejo’s singing appearances add a layer of spiritual richness.
However, some of the acts do not fit the feeling of passion and joy so well-established in the thematic tone of LUZIA and make the performance drag at times. Overall, Act I provides a more lush sensory experience, while Act II loses some seamlessness and joy. However, both acts close with unbelievable parades of music, color, and spectacle that could only appear in a sun kissed Mexican dream. LUZIA leaves the audience ready to chase waterfalls woven with animal silhouettes and rainbows and follow the light beyond their expectations of what the circus, or even Cirque du Soleil, can conjure.
Photos courtesy of Laurence Labat