Review: Amaluna (Cirque du Soleil)

Cirque du Soleil presents Amaluna in Toronto’s Port Lands through November 4, 2012.

It’s that time of year again, the circus is in town! And by “circus” I of course mean Cirque du Soleil. The theatrical circus empire from Quebec has once again brought its familiar blue and yellow big top to the Toronto Port Lands to present the company’s 32nd show, Amaluna.

As a kid, I’d beam with excitement when my mom would take me to the old-school sawdust ring, clowns-and-elephants circus that would pitch its tent in the local mall’s parking lot every year. I get that same twinge of excitement in my belly nowadays when Cirque du Soleil brings its perennial offering to town.

All Cirque shows are a variation of the same concept; taking circus acts and physical performances and integrating them into some sort of theatrical context with costumes, lighting, music and choreography and sometimes overlaying narrative elements to weave together a loose story. When all these elements come together the result can be sublime. A good Cirque show elicits awe and wonder and evokes emotion.

So what’s new this time around? Amaluna was developed around the theme of women and is a celebration of femininity; the cast is 70% female and, for the first time in Cirque’s history, the 6-piece band is all female.

The show was conceived, written and directed by Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre in Boston, and is her first collaboration with Cirque du Soleil. Paulus has a knack for re-inventing and re-imagining classic works of theatre. Last year she directed a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute for the Canadian Opera Company and she has also garnered acclaim for her recent Broadway revivals of Hair and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

Amaluna has a greater emphasis on narrative elements; it’s the first Cirque du Soleil show that actually employs a dramaturg (in this case, Paulus’ husband and long-time collaborator Randy Weiner). The story is their unique re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with a twist.

Like its source, Amaluna is set on a mysterious, enchanted island but in a bit of gender reversal, instead of a Prospero we have a Prospera (the amazing triple-threat actor/singer/cellist Julie McInnes), a conjurer who rules over the island. At the beginning of the show Prospera convenes the island’s inhabitants: the great females of folklore; Goddesses and tribes of Valkries and Amazons, for her daughter Miranda’s (Iuliia Mykhailova) coming-of-age ceremony.

Prospera then conjures a storm which shipwrecks a group of men on the island, upon first contact one of the men, Romeo, (Edouard Doye) catches Miranda’s eye and a love story ensues. The young lovers embark on a quest and traverse a series of trials to prove their love. As is usually the case for a Cirque show, the narrative is told in broad strokes through the different circus acts.

The highlights of the show for me were the moments where the circus acts really integrated into the overall theme and blended with character work and choreography. Mykhailova’s Waterbowl contortion act, which features the lithe contortionist balancing and repeatedly diving into in a small pool of water, is stunning. I also loved the emotion in the angry choreography of the aerial duo (Bozyan Suren and Karyna Konchakivska) for the storm scene.

Another strength is the way certain performers or groups of performers embody characters throughout the show. I’m especially amazed by Marie-Michelle Faber as the Moon Goddess; she has a beautiful voice with a unique coppery timbre. She sings while flying through the air performing trapeze skills on an aerial hoop. Viktor Kee also stands out, not only for the impressive agility he displays during his contact juggling act but also for his character work as Miranda’s jealous pet lizard, Cali.

While I really liked the show’s vocalists; Faber’s coppery voice combines with McInnes’ deep, rich alto and lead singer Jenifer Aubry’s powerful rock belt, I thought the score lacked depth and variety. The music mostly serves as background rather than a deliberate, integrated part of most scenes. The composers wanted more of a raw, hard rock sound than the music of classic Cirque scores but I didn’t find the undifferentiated arrangements very interesting and thought they strayed precariously close to bad rock opera territory at times.

Mérédith Caron’s eye-catching, iridescent costumes echo the rock influence in the score with contemporary style references but she effectively blends them with elements from the natural world and Elizabethan dress in a nod to the story’s Shakespearean roots.

All in all, Amaluna is everything we’ve come to expect from a Cirque du Soleil show, I wouldn’t call it one of my all-time favourites but it certainly has some beautiful moments that make it worthwhile whether it’s your first Cirque show or your 25th.

Details:

  • Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna is playing under the blue and yellow big top in Toronto’s Port Lands on Cherry Street through November 4, 2012
  • Shows run Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 8 p.m.; Thursdays through Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. No performances on Mondays. As it may vary, please visit cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna for the detailed show schedule.
  • Tickets $43.50 to $115.50 plus service charges
  • Tickets are available at the on-site box office or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna

Photo credit:

  • Photo from Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna by Laurence Labat

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