‘Cirque du Soleil Amaluna’
Through Sept. 21
At National Harbor
300 Waterfront Street
Oxon Hill, MD
You can spot Cirque du Soleil’s trademark blue and yellow striped tent from miles away. Sitting on a bluff above the National Harbor complex on the banks of the Potomac in Maryland, the big top conjures the kind of circus excitement you knew as kid. But forget the whip-toting tamer putting defanged lions through the paces. Cirque is about what people can do.
With its latest installation “Amaluna,” the Quebec-based franchise pays tribute to the power and allure of women. From its young woman coming-of-age storyline to its core female performers to its all-girl band, “Amaluna” offers a less-testosterone-fueled experience than Cirque’s other shows. But don’t fear, along with the daring, body-bending ladies, there’s plenty nimble beefcake on hand to keep everyone happy.
“Amaluna” (an etymological mash of “mother” and “moon”) refers to a mysterious, lunar-lit island inhabited by women and watched over by goddesses. Staged by Broadway’s Diane Paulus (best known for her celebrated revivals of musicals “Pippin” and “Porgy and Bess”), this dazzling amalgam of street theater and Vegas follows a narrative loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” only in this telling it’s singing sorceress Prospera (Julie McInnes) not Prospero whose magic sets the action in motion.
Prospera’s daughter Miranda needs a mate. The only male on hand is her half human, lizard-tailed pal Cali (Viktor Kee). Despite his enviable abs, he doesn’t make the grade, so mother summons a storm landing a crew of displaced young men on Amaluna’s shores. Miranda falls for Romeo (Evgeny Kurkin), the cutest of the bunch. But nothing comes easy. The pair’s fledgling infatuation must face many tests of the uniquely Cirque variety: for bikini-clad Miranda (the comely and cut Iuliia Mykhailova), it’s a series of contortionist moves on the slippery lip of a huge glass bowl. As Romeo, buff Kurkin demonstrates his outrageous upper body strength with a super tall, death-defying Chinese pole. It’s amazing stuff.
The climate-controlled venue is cavernous allowing the cast to soar through the night sky on aerial straps. And while the moody lighting creates a world of sea, stars and moon, it’s the performers’ athleticism and superbly executed physical feats that make the show.
The acts are varied ranging from highflying acrobatics to Cali’s immensely enjoyable juggling act which combines the tradition of circus and the flash that is Cirque. The tricks are incredible. Not at all the usual circus filler fare that you might expect. The all-male teeterboard act features a crew of well-built shirtless guys attempting to escape from a makeshift prison. It’s an exciting demonstration of strength and tumbling.
Not to say, the show is without flaws. Ever wonder where Olympic wannabes go? It appears the female gymnasts end up doing the uneven bar en masse with a traveling circus. It’s not easy. But when you come to Cirque, you expect to be blown away. This act was underwhelming. And what would a circus be without clowns? In this case, better. Sadly, the comic relief is tiresome.
The show’s highlight is titled Manipulation, an exotic balancing act performed by dancer Lili Chao Rigolo. Bit by bit, she deliberately picks up palm leaf ribs with her toes, slowly but surely assembling a piece of movable art that resembles a huge avian skeleton. The implication of her breath heightens the drama. Hers is intriguing and masterful artistry.
Overall, “Amaluna” is wondrous, transporting summer magic.