Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia bills itself as ‘A Waking Dream of Mexico’, and I might have thought that the ‘waking’ part comes from knowing I’m at the theatre and watching a performance. But there were moments in the show where I simply could not believe what I was seeing, and if someone told me I was dreaming I’d have been hard pressed to deny it.
It’s not just down to the feats of human ability on display, it’s also how they combine with the visual fiesta of costumes, background dance and performance, and larger-than-life props – animal, vegetable and mineral – and with an evocative soundtrack, performed live. But perhaps the most dreamlike of all, and especially in one moment towards the end of the first act, is set design that manages to steal the show. That’s down to the use of water, and in particular rain – the lluvia that combines with lux (light) in the portmanteau title – to create an effect so spectacular that the whole audience joined me in gasping and laughing with delight.
Cirque du Soleil had to make significant changes to their show to fit the unique constraints and proportions of the Royal Albert Hall, and it’s a testament to Eugenio Caballero’s design that it feels at once completely appropriate and at the same time inconceivable that they have managed to squeeze the show into this extraordinary space.
We are drawn into the action by Fool Koller, who parachutes impossibly onto the stage and into Mexico, and clowns through a dream unlocked with a giant clockwork key. But in the mysterious logic of this fantasy world, he’s not our only guide. Enchanting singer Majo Cornejo injects soul into the extravaganza, and the Running Woman-cum-Monarch Butterfly, Shelli Epstein (a London native who is performing in her home city for the first time – read an interview here) pops up in moments of calm focus both intriguing and evocative.
With such an explosion of smaller contemporary circus troupes and performances on offer over the last ten years, the bar has been raised over what will surprise and delight in terms of acrobatic tricks and feats of strength or endurance. What Cirque du Soleil offers is something bigger and bolder that pushes at the bounds of the possible – and breaks through them. Whether it’s tumblers thrown like logs between strong men or dancing in the air with aerial straps or speed juggling at such a pace that it all becomes a blur, jaw-dropping moments are the norm in this display.
We can even see the dialogue and interchange at play with smaller circuses – the Cyr wheel that has become ubiquitous in the past couple of years is put to great effect in this show, and the decision to combine it with the rain produces something that goes beyond the acts I’ve seen before in terms of sheer exhilaration and artistic grace.
In fact, this is why, even with so many opportunities to see extraordinary individuals performing circus at the height of their abilities, people continue to flock to Cirque du Soleil. No other company is quite so able to carry out the research and experiment with large-scale set-pieces in order to combine the seemingly incompatible in novel ways… and yet stitch together a show with such gorgeously vivid and yet harmonious thematic threads.
I’d even break the habit of a lifetime and advocate purchasing the souvenir programme. It outlines the heritage and influences that underpin the creation. For all Soleil’s big-business status, there is a love of Mexican culture and spirit which shines through with an integrity that can’t be faked. It is an astonishing dream of Mexico from which I wished I did not have to wake.
Review by Ben Ross
Cirque du Soleil return to London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2020, bringing their dazzling luminous spectacle, LUZIA to Europe for the first time.
LUZIA takes you to an imaginary Mexico, like in a waking dream, where light (“luz” in Spanish) quenches the spirit and rain (“lluvia”) soothes the soul.
With a surrealistic series of grand visual surprises and breathtaking acrobatic performances, LUZIA cleverly brings to the stage multiple places, faces and sounds of Mexico taken from both tradition and modernity.
Sunday 12 January – Sunday 1 March 2020