Where: Big Top at United Center Parking Lot K, 1901 W. Madison St.
When: through Sept. 3
By ANNE SPISELMAN
Cirque du Soleil’s latest show to hit Chicago, “Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico,” is bound to bedazzle newcomers, but once you’ve seen a number of the Canadian company’s extravaganzas, you’re likely to realize two things. They all follow more-or-less the same highly successful formula. Yet, at the same time, they tend to push the boundaries of the form.
This is neither good nor bad; it just is. In the case of “Luzia,” the amazing specialty acts—and the specialty acts always are amazing—are integrated nicely into a fantasy conception of Mexico, both past and present, that relies on symbols, myths, legends, flora and fauna, magical creatures, popular pastimes, and more to create a stunning visual and aural world. The design truly is spectacular, from the giant glowing disk that represents the sun (among other things) to the field of yellow marigolds that fills the stage for the opening.
The new element for Cirque is water, which is used in a variety of ways. Rain showers douse a number of the acrobatic acts, adding to the challenges facing, for example, the Cyr wheel artist (Angelica Bongiovonni) and trapeze artist (Enya White), who are interestingly paired for a lyrical routine. The football dancers (Laura Biondo and the especially skilled Abou Traoné) continue bouncing the ball with their feet, legs, necks, and heads even in a downpour. The clown (Eric Fool Koller) tries to fill his canteen with rain, which keeps shifting out of reach, until it becomes a deluge of wonderful images—flowers, birds, and so on. In one of the most spellbinding segments, the aerial straps artist (Benjamin Courtenay) emerges from a cenote (a sinkhole like those the Mayans believed were gateways to the afterlife), and his long hair whips the water as he glides through the air, after which he befriends a life-size puppet jaguar who drinks from the pool.
Another innovation is the revolving-turntable stage, which allows the audience to see the acts from a variety of perspectives. This is particularly effective for the penultimate Russian swing-to-swing number with eight acrobats flying back and forth between two aerial seesaws, instead of the more typical floor-mounted ones.
Other routines that are tweaked include hoop diving, which is performed on two treadmills with the
seven acrobats in hummingbird costumes complete with wings and beaks. Instead of a balancing act using an increasingly precarious stack of chairs, there’s Ugo Laffolay dressed as a lifeguard—in an elaborately staged beach scene–balancing on a pair of all-to-flexible canes that are built up to almost 20-feet high and threaten to collapse. Swing 360, a nod to lucha libre, features Krzystof Holowenko in a Mexican wrestling mask, swinging higher and higher until he literally goes over the top. And the contortionist, rather than being one or more teenage girls, is a most astonishing man, Aleksei Goloborodko, who could easily pass for a snake.
Other riveting specialists range from speed juggler Rudolf Janecek, whose silver pins become a whirring blur, to the female acrobat (Kelly McDonald or Naomi Zimmerman) who assumes graceful poses even as she’s tossed in the air by three men.
As is often the case, the comic interludes run on too long for my taste, even though I realize that some of them are necessary to set up what comes next. The clown scuba diving is silly without being funny, but most tedious of all is the clown’s protracted interaction with the audience involving a beach ball.
I also found the fiesta finale, with everyone gathering around a long table, rather disappointing compared to what had gone before. But those are minor drawbacks for a show showcasing wonderful performers that make the impossible look effortless in a setting that is, well, awesome.