|Photo by Matt Beard|
I didn't think they could do it. Not again.
My strongest memory of the first time I saw Cirque du Soleil, some 30 years ago, was walking out of a tent by Navy Pier with open-mouthed wonder. I had never seen anything like it; they had taken the circus, trimmed away all the problematic animals, and created a show out of pure whimsy and athleticism, twirling acrobats gibbering in an invented language, wicked clowns snatching eyeglasses from audience members and depositing them on faces far away. I felt like a child staring at the stars.
Since then I'd seen the show a few times, in various incarnations, the most recently a decade back, with the family in Disney World. It was still very good, but that sense of miracle had faded into something expected: 80-pound Chinese acrobats forming a pyramid.
But they invited me to the Friday opening of "Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico," playing until Sept. 3 in a big top in the parking lot of United Center, and my wife and I went, hoping for a diverting evening, nothing more. What we got was amazement. "Wow!" my wife kept saying. "Wow!"
Any one stunt—aerialists leaping from swinging platforms, tumblers dressed as birds diving through hoops, a lady performing in a rolling ring, strong men bracing against high poles—might have been merely well-done, a perfectly executed trick seen before. But taken together, the music, the costumes, the sets, colorful and redolent of Day of the Dead iconography, worked together to nudge it toward magic, not a word I use lightly. Lucha libre wrestlers, bird people, musicians, a Mexican carnival come to life.
|Photo by Matt Beard|
It's a difficult performance to convey in words, or even in pictures. Looking at the press photos, I kept thinking, "No, that it isn't it at all." They were fine photographs, not a question of their quality. But separated from their context, from the trilling enthusiasm and happiness of the performance and they were beetles tacked to a board, beautiful, but lacking the life that was pulsing through them. Like stills from a gorgeous movie.
If I said there was a juggler you might shrug—we've seen jugglers— but this juggler, blazing, intent, energetic to the highest pitch, doing the fastest juggling I've ever seen, six sparkling pins in the air, was breathtaking. If I said a man and a woman came out and free-styled with a pair of soccer balls, you might reply "So what?" But to see them do it, the balls one moment spinning on their heads, the next deftly held in the arch of their foot, moved around their bodies as if on a track, was a wonder to behold. And the contortionist—at one point I had to shield my eyes. Creepy and incredible.
Earlier in the day, at the paper, I told a colleague that I was going to "Cirque" and he looked at me strangely. "That doesn't seem your type of thing," he said, or words to that effect. And yes, while I'm more given to "Medea" or "Valkyrie"—which starts tech rehearsals soon at the Lyric—I really think you'd have to be dead not to be thrilled at "Luzia." My wife already wants to go back. And at the risk of politicizing a circus in our very political times, to present such a joyous and amazing romp through the lens of the rich culture of Mexico, a country constantly scorned and mocked by our toxic shame of a president, well, that's icing on the cake.
There's so much going on in "Luzia." Aerialists, acrobats, clowns. At one point, three cast members came onstage dressed as cacti, a bit of comic relief. "Look at the cactus in the middle" I said to my wife, and she laughed—a strategically-placed stem jutted suggestively from his mid-section. We both did, smiling at the bobbing cactus part; it was funny, both understated and in plain view, at least in profile. You had to admire the directness of it, of the whole thing, the entire enterprise, from high to low, soaring aerialists and flights of comedy, taking the familiar, cherished Cirque du Soleil formula and somehow making it fresh and fantastic once again.