BWW Reviews: Cirque du Soleil's AMALUNA Dazzles at National Harbor
Cirque du Soleil celebrates 30 years of spectacular circus arts this year with the presentation of the first ever majority female performance ensemble. Directed by renowned director, Diane Paulus, AMALUNA features a 70% female company of astonishingly skilled circus artists.
Drawing upon Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, the narrative through-line of AMALUNA, as articulated in the production's literature, revolves around a mythical island ruled by goddesses and governed by the cycles of the moon. To quote from the literature, "Queen Prospera summons the women of the island to participate in a coming-of-age ceremony for her daughter, Miranda. The passage to womanhood begins when a storm conjured up by Prospera brings a group of castaways to the island, and Miranda meets a brave young suitor. In the awakening of their affection for one another, Miranda and Romeo must endure a series of trials that teach them both about trust, harmony, balance and inner strength." And indeed, while I am not an authority on previous Cirque productions, even without the program notes available in the souvenir booklet, AmaL?na's narrative appeared more coherent and sustained that other productions.
Julia Mykhailova and Evgeny Kurkin played the fate-crossed lovers, and the dynamism between them sparkled. Each had interludes to showcase as well their extraordinary strength and acrobatic acumen. Mykhailov executed a fascinating display of balance, strength, agility, and grace on the rim of the production's central set piece---a gigantic, transparent water bowl signifying birth, death, and transformation. Kurkin wowed as well in his seemingly effortless acrobatics on a hanging Chinese pole on which he ultimately ascended into the dizzying heights.
Filled with glorious and defiantly strong women characters, AMALUNA again and again showcased women performers of impeccable strength, precision, musicality, and grace. Commanded by the resonate-voiced Julie McIness's Prospera, the evening burst forth with physics-defying act after act, from the the Icarians and Water Meteors (Xinyue Chen, Xhao Qian, Gaoyun Zhao, Yanling Zheng, Min Zhuang, Yulun Wang, Lei Fu, Sijiang Lui) to Storm (Vanessa Fournier, Maxim Panteleenko), the Peacock Dance (Amber J. Merrick) and Cerceau (Andréanne Nadeau), and the Amazons on uneven bars (Karina Brooks, Lindsey Bruck-Ayotte, Laura-Ann Chong, Amara DeFilippo, Melissa Fernandez, Summer Hubbard, Melanie Sinclair, Brittany Urbain) to the aerial straps performance (Virginie Canovas, Kylee Maupoux, Marina Tomanova). Among the most riveting of feats was the meticulously assembled mobile of bone-like structures assembled by Balance Goddess Lili Chao-Rigolo to create a massive Calder-like construction that manifested the laws of physics before our very eyes.
AMALUNA's male performers dazzled as well, and the athletic masculinity of the teeterboard act after intermission delighted (Aaron Charbonneau, Joe McAdam, Julian Moreno Granda, Olivier Sabourin). As Cali (as in Caliban), Viktor Kee charmed and impressed throughout the night with his fluid theatrics and flawless juggling.
And woven between the many performances were the funny, crowd-pleasing antics of clowns Sheeren Hickman and Nathalie Claude as a buffonish couple smitten with each other and subsequently with their playful brood of football-shaped offspring. Additionally, the performance featured the fluid, musical stylings of musicians Julie McInnes, Didi Negron, Mireille Marchal, Cassandra Faulconer, Angie Swan, and Rachel Woods, and singers McInnes and Jennifer Aubry.
AMALUNA, like Cirque du Soleil itself, is a triumph of collaboration. Happily, many units of performers appeared several times, maintaining the same personae and lending the production a consistency and dramatic cohesion.
One marvels not only at the breathtaking acrobatic and physical feats onstage, but at the massive production machinery that devises and constructs Cirque's traveling infrastructure, complete with running water bathroom facilities, portable air conditioning, and a veritable army of friendly, ultra efficient crew members to attend to one's every need or merchandizing impulse. Cirque's productions are marvels of human capacity wrought from lifetimes of unimaginable discipline. Yet, the magic of live performances of the impossible is that they happen in real time, before our eyes, and despite the thousands of excruciating hours that have gone into training and preparation and rehearsals, the unspeakable danger hovers before us.
Clearly, Cirque du Soleil has become the peak of its own inimitable brand; it is its own dazzling, super-human, spectacular and lavish celebration, and audience world-wide will long remain captivated by it.
The spectacular production values that have come to define Cirque du Soleil as the preeminent spectacle of our times, was realized in AMALUNA by a creative team that includes the Artistic Guidance of Guy Laliberté plus Director of Creation Fernand Rainville, Director Diane Paulus, Set and Props Designer Scott Pask, Costume Designer Mérédith Caron, Composers Bill & Bob, Sound Designer Jacques Boucher, Lighting Designer Matthieu Larrivée; Choreographer Karole Armitage, Acrobatic Choreographers Debra Brown and Caitlan Maggs; Acrobatic Performance Designer Rob Bollinger; Rigging and Acrobatic Equipment Designer Fred Gérard, Props Designer Patricia Ruel, and Make-up Designer Eleni Uranis; and Dramatugre Randy Weiner, as well as a enormous company of highly skilled practitioners of all manner of theatrecraft who realized the artistic vision of AMALUNA.
Through September 21, 2014, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Tickets: http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/AmaLuna or 1-800-450-1480