Cirque Du Soleil Goes South of The Border With Surreal ‘LUZIA’
The colors and surrealism of Mexican cultural and pop art are in vogue these days. Disney and Pixar have scored a massive hit with “Coco,” and now Cirque Du Soleil returns with a new, flamboyant spectacle conjuring Mexican visions and dreamscapes. “Luzia“ takes all the most recognizable elements of Mexican art and historical imagery to produce a circus experience of hallucinatory power. It is a live embodiment of Surrealist Andre Breton’s contention that Mexico is “the ultimate surrealist country.”
The show focuses on two key Spanish words, “luz,” meaning light, and “lluvia,” meaning rain. It is a reference to the general idea that Mexico is known geographically for its desert landscapes (although the country has quite a bit of jungle to the south) and cultural attachment to the elements. The general plot this time around, because for whatever reason Cirque Du Soleil insists it features narratives, follows a mime as he traverses various scenes inspired by Mexican culture, searching for water to the beat of an eclectic soundtrack fueled by cumbia and other styles popular regionally. The mime is essentially a stand in for the audience, as he encounters everything from a strongman climbing a giant cane on the beach to women on Cyr wheels speeding through the rainforest. There is an ecological undertone to the production, which emphasizes a message of preservation while acknowledging Latin America’s importance as a biodiverse region of the world.
But this is Cirque Du Soleil, and like all great circuses what matters is the visual experience and craftsmanship of the performances/stunts. The sets are lush and grand. They were designed by Eugenio Caballero who worked on Guillermo Del Toro’s classic 2007 fantasy movie “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Indeed, the show has that kind of vivid Del Toro style to it, where different fashions are thrown into a blender. Mexican wrestling masks, giant cactuses, winks at Aztec culture, it’s all here. At one point a performer dressed in indigenous attire strokes a giant leopard costume. In another section soccer ball free-stylers grace the stage. At one point a scuba diver is assaulted by a living cactus. Strange it is, but Cirque Du Soleil has always been the expensive, circus equivalent of experimental arthouse films. At times it can even seem a bit pretentious, but the stunts are always exhilarating enough to brush away such cares.
And stunts there are such as when contortionist Aleksei Goloborodko turns into a question mark, and an aerialist suspended from a trapeze twirls through magnificently fierce, pouring waters. The show wisely celebrates the diversity of Mexico itself, setting its performances in the badlands of the country and also in its urban cities, at times it also renders tribute to Mexico’s golden age of cinema. One great stunt involves a group of hoop divers dressed as colorful birds who perform feats that make the eyes spin. And as always there is juggling, astounding trapeze numbers and swings.
It makes sense that Cirque Du Soleil would choose Mexico as its next big project. Not only is it a chance to celebrate diversity, but the country’s cultural aesthetic is so rich the pairing was almost inevitable. Yet the circus troupe never fully abandons its identity. While the soundtrack is infused with Mexican and Latin rhythms, its general tone is still that atmospheric ambiance we come to expect from a Cirque Du Soleil soundtrack. Singer Majo Cornejo and guitarist Rodrigo de la Mora lead the band in the show with much gusto while adding great, extra energy to what is seen onstage.
“Luzia” is beautiful to gaze at, even if we have become used to the Cirque Du Soleil routine. Maybe that’s a good thing, because when we enter the grand tent or stadium, we know we can at least expect wondrous talents carrying out breathless feats.
Cirque Du Soleil’s “Luzia“ comes to New York, NY May 3 through June 9.