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February 14, 2017 > Cirque du Soliels Luzia: a Vision of Surreal Mexico

Cirque du Soliels Luzia: a Vision of Surreal Mexico

By Philip Kobylarz

At some point in our lives, we all have just wanted to run away to join the circus. Cirque du Soleil gives us an opportunity to flee the doldrums of our daily lives and visit a fantastical realm of escape and transformation in their San Jose Grand Chapiteau limited engagement running from February 9th to March 19th.

Described as a waking dream of Mexico, this show is the first to feature water as integral player in the performances. There are additional technical innovations: two moving treadmills housed an intimate art space called the Blue Box designed in a way in which no bad seats are possible. This production features a centrally located stage that itself feels organic and alive. Set designer Eugenio Caballero desired to invoke the feeling of Mexican history, Aztec monumentality, and the complexity of Mesoamerican culture by creating an atmosphere that envelopes the audience in an historical, cinematic aura of the spectacle.

Beginning in a field of cempashuchil, or Aztec marigolds, the main flowers used in Day of the Dead altars, the feeling under the big top is immediately one of otherworldliness. This is enhanced by a dark black interior framed in blue backdrops and floor lighting created to suggest a fluidity of space and time.

Rituals, symbols, and archetypes, and not stereotypes, of south of the border culture guide the spectators from a movie set to the ocean, deserts, a tropical sinkhole, a dance hall, to a gigantic Papel Picado lantern structure all on a journey through the beautiful fusion of Western and Native American civilizations that have blended so exotically for centuries. The effect is that we become both spectators and participants in the richness and complexity of Mexican heritage.

Inspiration for the production is described to be the annual migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico; this is how the spectacle figuratively begins. Mexican mythology and culture loosely serves as a defining concept, while the production is somewhat thematically structured around a clown, more so grand mime, who abstractly deals with bedeviling hardships in each of his interspersed vignettes. His backstory involves the show's creator and producer, Daniele Finzi Pasca, who lost his wife while he was premiering the show. Colleague, Brigitte Poupart, a Quebecoise director and actress, then took over. She developed the clown, played brilliantly by Eric Koller, to represent a character burdened by a sense of the ephemeral. He is both maudlin and hilarious, a foil for the wandering soul suffering a loss or void that perhaps only performance art and mimetic expression can eventually cure.

The title is a portmanteau joining light in Spanish (luz) with rain (lluvia). What makes this evolution of the Cirque's oeuvre so different from others is the water element: some 1,585 gallons. Water falls torrentially in patterns and elegant sheets and arrays the performers in a mystically seductive sheen. In visualizations created by a graphical water display screen, really an odd and amazing performance in itself, these metaphorical fifty-foot waterfalls are used to both reference Vasquez's Mexico City fountain and the Aztec rain god Tlaloc.

The stage, a slowly spinning disc with an imposing sun/moon medallion suspended above, was specially created for the bursts of man-made rain. It has a sand paper-like texture and 95,000 holes to drain the flurries of artistic downpour. And in case one wonders, yes, all of the technical equipment had to be waterproofed; the H2O used is recycled and even warmed to eighty degrees to keep the drenched performers comfortable.

The large metallic disc behind the stage has a life of its own: it changes from moonscapes, to the night sky, into super novae of sunbursts, suggesting the Aztec/Mayan calendar at times. It moves backwards and forwards and revolves horizontally like a planet; an integral player in the show.

Another innovative design is a twenty pound dress that esoterically changes from white to red. It is adorned with ninety-eight individual robotic flowers each programmed to open, changing the color palette and the mood, giving songstress Majo Cornejo a gown that weirdly blooms. It is one of over a thousand costumes in the production.

Luzia reminds us that the concept of the circus, invented in England, is a European theatrical genre somewhat formulaic: hoop play, large-scale puppetry, a contortionist, skits of a random nature. The cast is reflective of this history hailing from fifteen different countries including Mexico, Poland, France, Ukraine, and Holland. There is an ensemble of characters created with surrealism in mind: giant cockroaches, robotic fish-headed lovers, a butterfly woman, over-sized armadillos, all backgrounded by agave stalks, a curtain of illuminated fabric, luchadores in tuxes, and the ever present metallic centerpiece that organically morphs into different colors and visual patterns.

Amazement just keeps coming and coming. There are seventeen distinct sections. The finale, an aerial act on floor-mounted Russian swings is a thrilling feat of human flight and the power of inertia exploded and poeticized. There are equal amounts of cheesy silliness for the kids and classy, erotic acrobatics to keep people of all ages engaged and enthralled. In this thematic inception, there are no slow stretches. Each performance flows into the next and leaves viewers with a sense of awe. For these familiar with past productions, this one is Cirque du Soliel at its best and most inspired. It is a trip that is emblazoned with a certain something-else-ness that in Spanish is pronounced duende.

Cirque du Soliel: Luzia
Thursday, Feb. 9th - Sunday, March 19
Tuesdays-Fridays: 8 p.m.
Saturdays: 4:30 & 8 p.m.
Sundays: 1:30 & 5 p.m.
Taylor Street Bridge, Lot E
176 Asbury Street, San Jose
Tickets: $49-$270

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