|Laurence Olivier once said that “in a great city, or even in a small city or a village, great theatre is the outward and visible sign of an inward and probable culture“. There is no better proof of this than in the umbilical connection between Vancouver’s thriving culture and bourgeoning theatre scene.
Here on Cue to Cue we’ll regularly feature in-depth previews and reviews of the shows that create the face of Vancouver theatre, as well as interviews with the local artists behind it all…
I’m a sucker for a bit of spectacle. That said, From Quidam in 2004 to O last year in Las Vegas, I’ve always added Cirque du Soleil to the budget (or the credit card). I mention this so that we’re on the same page when I say: Cirque’s current offering to the Vancouver scene, Amaluna, is the most dazzling and effective production of theirs I’ve ever seen.
Cirque normally is escapist fare for me, a series of amazing visuals to feast on with little thought to narrative. Amaluna however makes effort to plant one foot solidly in the story realm. With heavy influence from a variety of Shakespearian plays (our lovers are Miranda and Romeo), we find a satisfying balance of reverie and realism. This isn’t just a love story, though; this is a coming of age story for our Miranda. By watching a variety of strong female performers, she finds inspiration for the woman she hopes to become. Guided by goddesses, she learns that confidence and strength are actually the key to the success she desires. In a particularly memorable moment, we end Act 1 watching her come into her own with a mesmerizing contortion and balance routine on the edge of a water bowl. From child-like joy to sexual abandon, we find ourselves on a journey of discovery ourselves through their spectacle. This journey is scored by a steady stream of beats and rock riffs coming from an all female band. “Amaluna is a tribute to the work and voice of women,” explains Director of Creation Fernand Rainville. “The show is a reflection on balance from a woman’s perspective,“ he adds. Show Director Diane Paulus says: “Amaluna is less about feminism and more about reconnecting to our world in a different way.”
Breaking the Cirque mold was where Amaluna was most successful for me, but there were clear ties to older formats that fell flat as a result. Each Cirque show has clowns, and while in many cases their presence is a welcome break in tone and athleticism, the strong narrative in Amaluna didn’t seem to require the farce. Our clowns, Jeeves and Deeta, were frankly not funny. Their entrances elicited audible groans, and sidetracked an otherwise exquisite pace.
Story aside, Amaluna still heavily favours the impossible athleticism and beauty that Cirque du Soleil is known for. I had the pleasure of being sandwiched between my friend who has never been to any circus in one seat and an 8 year old boy in the other. From screams to terrified giggles, there was rarely a moment in the night they weren’t in complete awe at the acts. We spent a lot of the night whispering “could you imagine if our bodies could do that?” Some personal favourites: In “Icarian Games and Watermeteors”, tiny girls spin ropes that are weighted at both ends while men juggle their bodies with their feet. I might have lost my voice after that part. Later, in “Manipulation”, a beautiful goddess builds an enormous arrow out of Palm one stalk at a time, holding on to the wavering form while picking up new stalks with her toes. Not even the kid next to me took a breath for fear. Then in a flying sequence called “Aerial Straps”, performers battle atop the audience. This is “flight in four dimensions,” according to the press-release “calling for precision timing in addition to the skills and physical strength it takes to move at high velocity through 360 degrees”. Success.
Whether you are looking for a last minute gift, or a treat for yourself this holiday season, I cannot recommend this latest Cirque incarnation enough. The show isn’t perfect, but it is the perfect night out…just ask the kid who left begging his mom for juggling lessons.
WHEN: Now until January 20th, 2013
WHERE: the Big Top at Concord Pacific Place
TICKETS: 1-800-450-1480 or Online.