Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Luzia.’ (Photo: Matt Beard © 2017 Cirque du Soleil)
Given our current administration’s current obsession with a border wall, it’s an interesting time for Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia to take up residence in the parking lot of Citi Field in New York City. Subtitled A Waking Dream of Mexico, the show premiered in 2016, and while it doesn’t always envelop the emotive cultural heritage of our southern neighbor, it certainly piques enough interest with visual and athletic skills to remind audiences that we have plenty to appreciate beyond our borders.
Luzia marks Cirque’s 38th show, and the company has made literal leaps and bounds since its 1984 founding by a group of Quebec-based street performers. Las Vegas has become Cirque central, with seven shows in residence. But there’s something thrilling about a not-so-old-fashioned big top. Le Grand Chapiteau can accommodate more than 2,600 audience members, on par with many of the Broadway theaters. This particular tent showcases Luzia’s theme, with printed patterns evoking the sun and the moon.
Stepping inside, the stage blooms with thousands of marigolds, setting up the premise for a series of “grand visual surprises.” Cirque continues to push the boundaries of athleticism, and Luzia doesn’t disappoint on that front, with innovative riffs of familiar acts.
The loose framework follows the journey of a parachutist who lands amid the flowery pasture and discovers a gigantic key that unlocks Luzia’s mystical world. Unlike some of Cirque’s other works, the clown doesn’t offer much emotional investment — he’s not on a quest, but seems to serve the purpose of entertaining younger audience members while the crew mops after several thrilling water acts.
Luzia celebrates Mexico’s wildlife with opening acts that performing on two giant treadmills, beginning with a running woman (Shelli Epstein) representing the monarch butterfly’s migration from Canada to Mexico, followed by a troupe of hoop divers dressed as hummingbirds. The treadmills add a catch-your-breath wow factor to an otherwise familiar act.
Other highlights include a football dance (featuring Abou Traoré and Laura Biondo), which pays tribute to the country’s soccer obsession; aerial strap artist Stephen Brine, who performs over a pool of water representing a cenote (a water-filled sinkhole); speed juggler Cylios Pytlak, accompanied by live marimba; and a rotating Russian swing-to-swing act set under a red moon.
Cirque’s creative team integrates popular themes of Mexico’s culture throughout, which on the surface delivers refreshing vibrancy. Set Designer Eugenio Caballero captures the country’s diversity and grandeur, particularly the Papel Picado curtain that descends at the end of Act I. Costume Designer Giovanna Buzzi equally supports this vision in a more fantastical rather than folkloric manner. Composer Simon Carpentier also draws from vast sources, with live musicians executing styles such as cumbia, bandas, norteño and huapango.
At the particular performance I attended, Luzia’s only lacking element was a sense of cohesion among its company. With few exceptions (including the aforementioned football players and dynamic juggler) there seemed to be lack of joy. For anyone who has spent time in Mexico, its celebratory warmth is one of the country’s cultural trademarks. Some might say concentration trumps emotion. But the occasional smile would only make Luzia more brightly shine.
Through June 9
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.