After more than three decades of putting on dazzling theatrical circus performances, Cirque du Soleil has established its own entertainment formula. Acrobatic feats, live music, juggling, comedic bits, and elaborate costumes are a given. The only question with each new show is what variable parts and thematic elements will be swapped in as cogs of the well-oiled machine this time around.
Cirque du Soleli: Luzia—which runs through May 21 at Marymoor Park—finds the French Canadian company paying homage to the festive aspects of Mexican culture. Sporting an imaginative and colorful set designed by Oscar-winning Mexican set designer Eugenio Cabllero (Pan’s Labyrinth), Luzia creates a magical dream world populated with butterflies, robots, anthropomorphic cacti, and more.
After a prologue that features the most adorable animatronic maraca-playing watering can robots, Luzia opens with a clown simulating sky diving and landing in Mexico. The show follows the clown as he wanders the Mexican countryside and acts as the connective tissue between the various routines. He encounters quite the array of characters on his journey: a luchador on a massive 360-degree swing, a glorious butterfly and her large horse puppet friends which run across a treadmill embedded in the spinning stage, a cenote-dipping shirtless strap gymnast demigod who uses his long, drench mane to further accent his acrobatics, and a jersey-clad trick soccer ball (or in this case, football) juggling duo, a freakily flexible contortionist (who's alarming to the point where you could build a whole horror movie around him), and more. While some routines—like the handstand champion of a movie lifeguard or the women rolling around stage on Cyr wheels—might be more awe-inspiring than others (sorry, mister juggler), there’s really not a dull act in the lot.
Luzia’s production design manages to even outshine the performers at times. There’s an orange cylindrical curtain in the Mexican folk art papel picado style that’s art museum-worthy despite only appearing briefly. Water plays a role throughout the production as an electronically-controlled rain curtain adds extra elements to certain areal acts, and it becomes something magical right before intermission. It turns out, the digital system can open or close valves along the curtain’s line to create patterns in the falling water. It’s a stunning effect to see the falling water create images of fish, foliage, birds, and more.
The performers’ apparent ease while executing their specialized feats can actually be disarming in a way. Because they’re all world-class at their own disciplines, things seem routine despite the level of near-perfection required. This came into jarring focus at the performance I attended when one of the performers doing aerial acrobatics while leaping between swinging platform failed to stick the landing and came crashing down on her back. The accident necessitated a full stop of the action and a stretcher to safely remove her from stage. Against a fantasy backdrop, the moment of real fear felt more surreal than anything else that happened (partially because she managed to land gracefully against the mat while injuring herself so the first reaction wasn’t shock but was that supposed to happen?). While it was later disclosed she thankfully wasn’t seriously injured, the moment underscored just how much effort and precision goes into each routine to the point where an audience tunes out the potential risks.
One shouldn’t mistake the intention of Luzia. It’s crucial to keep in mind that—outside of the Spanish tunes performed by Majo Cornejo and Rodrigo de la Mora—there’s nothing about the performers that comes off as authentically Mexican. Strip away the costumes and set, and it's largely a bunch of white performers doing routines that could fit in any other Cirque show. But the show is meant to pay homage to the aesthetic spirit of Mexican culture, not serve as a direct reflection of it. It’s a French-Canadian daydream about Mexico that happened to spring out of the realm of imagination for audiences of all-ages to enjoy.
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia
Thru May 21, Marymoor Park, $29–$495