Friday, May 30, 2014

Cirque de Soleil's "Amaluna" Opens In Boston - Diane Paulus Runs Away With The Circus

Among the storied islands of Boston Harbor, a new and mysterious island has appeared on our shore by the name of "Amaluna" - the latest spectacular show mounted by Cirque de Soleil.  The Montreal-based circus company is celebrating its 30th anniversary.  To help to make the celebration a memorable one, they called upon our own Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of Harvard's American Repertory Theater, to create a new show.

This Cirque production is quite different from other shows I have seen, but it is in no way less entertaining or satisfying.  Last night's audience at the Boston Premiere were enraptured, enchanted and enthused.  This show has Ms. Paulus' fingerprints all over it.  She was recently named by Time Magazine among the 100 most influence persons in the world.  Her strong and original influence on the world of theater has been broadly noted; she now exerts that same strong and nuanced influence on the world of circus, and we are all richer as a result of her innovations.

There are two dynamics that stand out about this show and distinguish it from all of its predecessors in the Cirque de Soleil treasure chest of circus shows.  First, there is a much stronger narrative thread than normal, tying together the various acrobatic acts into a flowing story that is a "Coming of Age" tale for Miranda, daughter of the goddess figure, Prospera.  Secondly,  this is a show that tells a story about the power of women to control their own destinies.  Based loosely on Shakespeare's "The Tempest," the narrative of "Amaluna" also draws from mythology, "Romeo and Juliet," and several other sources.  Reversing the normal demographic of a typical Cirque de Soleil cast, 70% of the performers in this show are female, including a stunningly effect all female band led by Julie McInnes, who plays violincello and sax and also portrays Miranda's mother, Prospera.

The usual astonishing feats of athleticism and grace are on display throughout this show, all serving to contribute in some way to highlight the saga of Miranda coming of age and overcoming obstacles to unite with the Romeo figure.  Played by Ukrainian acrobat, Iuliia Mykhailova, Miranda performs  a not-to-be-believed act on and inside of a huge water bowl.  The contortions through which she puts her body are beyond description, and must be seen to be believed.

Water Bowl
Iuliia Mykhailova

I would like to concentrate my thoughts about this show on two acts that to me encapsulate everything that is wondrous about "Amaluna."  In an act entitled "Balance Goddess," the remarkably graceful and gracious Lili Chao performs a feat of construction and balance unlike anything I have ever seen before.  She begins in the center of a stage strewn with a pile of palm ribs of various sizes.  Beginning with the smallest, she constructs a precariously balanced mobile one piece at a time. What she builds looks like a rib cage.  As her creation grows, it seems to float and to hover, almost longing to take flight.  Upstage observing this act of creation is Miranda sitting in rapt attention at what is unfolding at her feet. Lilli Chao is miked, so we are able to hear her gentle breathing during this sequence in which each audience member is holding her breath, wondering how long this fragile construction can hold together.  Finally, the Goddess completes the construction, which now balances on the largest rib that has been established vertically as a pivot point and anchor point for the huge mobile that seems to live.  She then removes the smallest piece of the skeleton, upsetting the delicate balance, and the whole thing gently collapses in a pile, devolving from order back into the primordial chaos from which is had been pulled.

My brain is wired to find metaphor, so here is what I took away from this deeply moving and impressive display.  I saw the act in part as a re-ordering and re-telling of the traditional biblical creation account, this time with a Goddess using what looked lie a rib to create a new living being, which seemed to float and to breathe.  That being could represent mankind, it could represent our fragile ecosystem and cosmos and it could represent the abstract concept of love.  In each case, the secret for keeping every component together as a functional whole - a person, an ecosystem or a love relationship - is a delicate dance involving balance among the component parts and just the right amount of friction.  The Goddess was tacitly saying to Miranda: "Watch carefully.  This is how you must build your life, your world, your love relationship with Romeo." She was silently preaching to us in the audience, as well.  And we were stunned and smitten by the subtlety and grace of her act of creation.  This is not the usual stuff of which a Cirque de Soleil acts is constructed, and that made it all the more poignant.

Lili Chao is The Goddes
CIuliia Mykhailova as Mirandra

Miranda was then abducted by the forces that would seek to keep her from Romeo, and she is taken to a place seemingly inaccessible n the sky.  Romeo, played by Evgeny Kurkin, uses a huge Chinese pole to try to ascend to the heavens and claim his lost lover.  His journey up and down the pole was a stunning display of raw power and determination and reckless risk-taking in the name of love.  One particularly dramatic head-first descent from the top of the pole to a spot just inches above the floor I will have to call his "To Be Or Not To Be" moment - Romeo channeling Hamlet's plunge into existential despair.  Miranda, cloaked and perched in darkness on a remote balcony, observes her suitor's pilgrimage.

The juxtaposition of the feminine delicacy of the Goddess and the pure masculine raw power of Mr. Kurkin's journey up and down the pole showed the "polar" extremes of Ms. Paulus' view of the world she has created on the island of Amaluna.

Evgeny Kurkin as Romeo

The overall visual effect of the show is breathtakingly beautiful.  In her own act of creation, Diane Paulus as Director has been joined by Guy Laliberte and Fernand Rainville as Diretors of Creation, Scott Pask on Set and Props, Meredith Caron as Costume Designer, Bob & Bill as composers of original atmospheric music, Jacques Boucher as Sound Designer, Matthieu Larrivee as Lighting Designer, Karole Armitage as Choreographer, Rob Bolliger as Acrobatic Performance Designer, Debra Brown and Caitlan Maggs as Acrobatic Choreographers, Fred Gerard as Rigging Designer and a whole army of other artists and technicians.

Another act of note involved a team of femal acrobats performing magnificently on Uneven Bars.  A group of male acrobats has washed up on shore at Amaluna after a shipwreck caused by a Prospera-induced tempest,  These sailors attempt to perform the same athletic feats, but are quickly laughed off the stage by the balletic and athletic goddesses.  During Intermission, I had a chance to chat with Diane Paulus and have a brief conversation about Act I.

"What did you think of the Goddesses on the Uneven Bars?"  

"Well, I would say that the Amazons defeated the Boy Band."  

She laughed and said: "You get it!"

neven Bars

If you want an evening of fun - a date, a family outing, a girls' night out - that will both entertain and challenge you - you cannot do better than to head to the ephemeral island of Amaula.  It will remain here in Boston through July 6.  An evening under the iconic Big Top may take you back to your childhood and propel you forward into a more enlightened future.



Amaluna Website

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