Cirque's newest show dazzles with a female-powered take on The Tempest.
Cirque du Soleil’s iconic yellow-and-blue big top popped up in the Port Lands last week for its annual circus extravaganza, and this year’s show, directed by Diane Paulus, is somewhat influenced by the Bard. The storyline that loosely runs through Amaluna takes elements from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: on an island, a young woman named Miranda (Iuliia Mykhailova) meets a young man who has been shipwrecked (Edouard Doye, whose character is peculiarly named Romeo instead of Ferdinand), and the two must overcome countless obstacles to be together. Like the original play, those include the intrusions of Miranda’s fiendish pet lizard-creature Cali, portrayed here with delightful, slithery creepiness by Viktor Kee, a master juggler to boot.
The whole production includes a twist, however: instead of the magician Prospero, it’s Miranda’s mother, Prospera (Julie Andrea McInnes), who conjures up the storm that brings a gaggle of shirtless, ripped sailors to their shores (thanks, mom!). On top of that, the supporting cast includes a number of goddesses, Amazons, and valkyries that make this the most female-centric Cirque show ever—apparently, the cast is about 70 per cent female, including all six members of its rock-inspired band, so prepare to get your She-Ra on.
But when it comes to any Cirque show, let’s face it—the storyline is only a vague notion meant to complement astounding feats of physical prowess and acrobatic skill. To this end, Amaluna will drop your jaw. During the opening scene—an elaborate coming-of-age ceremony for Miranda—the Moon Goddess appears wrapped around a hoop that slowly descends from the ceiling, while singing a haunting musical number. Soon after, when the young lovers finally find each other, Mykhailova’s Miranda displays her contortionist skills as she slips in and out of a glass water bowl, twisting herself into a pretzel while balancing herself on one hand at the edge.
One of the most memorable scenes was during the second act, and brought a hush to the entire audience: relying heavily on the use of her feet, the Balance Goddess delicately lifts a series of giant wooden rib-looking objects and balances them into a perfect mobile structure several metres long. Her performance is elevated by the fact that each slow breath is amplified throughout the room, accentuating the remarkable, meditative effort that goes into each movement. When it was all over, and she collapsed the structure by removing a tiny piece at one end, the audience let its collective breath go, and burst into appreciative, relieved applause.
Weaving in and out of the main plot is a side-story involving two clowns named Jeeves and Deeda, the servants of the young lovers, who meet and quickly begin a sweet, floundering romance of their own. Despite a cute scene in which Deeda gives birth to a collection of football-shaped, clown-nosed (and in some cases moustachioed) babies, there were times when these characters overstayed their welcome, and we wished the show would return to its central plot.
However, if aerial acrobatics, tightrope walking, and unicycles are your thing—and why wouldn’t they be?—Cirque du Soleil is the best ticket in town, hands down. Amaluna’s costumes alone, designed by Mérédith Caron, are unmatched anywhere else: during the dance of the Peacock Goddess, her ultra-feminine white tulle-and-lace dress sparkles exquisitely, covered in thousands of crystals. The Amazon women, meanwhile, are badass in red-and-black leotards and leather boots, and armed with bows and arrows. Whether or not you follow the show’s Shakespeare connection, Amaluna will leave you marvelling, much like The Tempest’s Miranda, “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in’t.”