Look closer. Did you see it?
Probably not. Because despite everything that’s going on during a Cirque du Soleil performance, it’s the subtle, almost unnoticeable details that truly make it one of the greatest shows on earth.
I always come away impressed, but not for the reasons you may think.
Doesn’t matter if I like the performances (I do). All of them are both weird and wonderful in a fascinating hypnotic way. In fact, I often shake my head in wonderment at how they come up with all these ideas. However, in my opinion, that is not where Cirque’s magic lies.
For me, it’s about the stuff you don’t always notice. It’s the details that, as creator Guy LaLiberte knows, make the difference between mediocre and spectacular. And Amaluna, Cirque’s latest instalment, is no different.
The costumes, the lighting and the sheer engineering energy that it takes to put on this show are staggering. The visually stunning sets and opening pageant number are almost too much for the brain to take in all at once. This is not so hard to notice.
But pause for a minute to consider the mechanics of such an undertaking. Elaborate rigging, custom welded apparatuses, the quick take-down and set-up of on the fly sets are all part of life in this circus. Throw in the precise timing required to help a performer fly around the tent and it becomes clear that there is no room for error. Making it look easy is part of the handbook.
Every performer here is very highly trained. Held to a standard like no other. Each one acts, and reacts, to their environment. Whether they are spotting for a stunt, cleaning the floor of water or setting up for the next act, each one is fully aware that they are always on stage. Again, this is not so hard to notice.
But stop. Check out their eyes. Watch their expressions. The contact they keep with the audience. The glances they exchange as they whirl past each other. The intimacy created during the Cerceau and The Waterbowl scene. The passion exchanged as two “lovers” fly overhead during The Storm sequence. All acting. All drama. And all very important details that bring added tension beyond the fact they’re hanging on for dear life overhead.
I also suspect that every performer is specially trained in what my stage peeps used to call the “perma-smile”. Once again done to Cirque perfection, it’s what makes a potentially boring unicycle dance come to life. Two adorable little faces in glimmering gold outfits “tweedle” about with smiles big enough to reach the back row. Despite their likeness to Dr. Seuss’s “Thing One” and “Thing Two”, all I wanted to do was take them home and keep them.
But when it comes to star “face” performances, the juggling Lizard man has set the standard. A going concern throughout the entire show, performer Viktor Kee’s animation is nothing short of spectacular. Effortlessly catching glowing orbs that fall from the sky, you just know this guy loves wearing this costume. The suggestive stare. The sly smile. He masterfully draws everyone into his act. After shedding his skin, it becomes clear that he is much more than a piece of tail who knows how to handle his … balls?
Finally, one can’t talk about Cirque without mentioning the music. Haunting yet explosive, it is, for me at least, the most important part of the show. While other stage shows seem content with a cutback pit orchestra plugged into too many midi devices, I’m happy to see Cirque settle for nothing less than the full monty. Singers, drummers, strings and guitar players that, in typical Cirque style, are true all-round performers. Dressed in outfits that would make Prince weep with envy, the all-girl band of Amaluna can shred it with the best of them. Precise timing. The perfect splash cymbal. The cresting crescendoes. All custom composed to specifically match each stage theme. Usually hidden in the shadows, I was thrilled to see the musicians play up front much more than usual this time out.
It’s clear that Cirque, and Amaluna, are all about a feast for the senses. Worth the price of admission and more, I highly recommend taking in the magic while it is town this holiday season.
By Catherine Barr
Photos by Dee Gandhi