Review: Luzia (Cirque du Soleil)

| July 29, 2017

Adagio from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil (2)            


Directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca
United Center, Parking Lot K (map)
thru Sept 3  |  tix: $35 and up  |  more info    
Check for half-price tickets   


So much impossible beauty it almost hurts


Running Woman from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil presents
Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico

Review by Catey Sullivan

There is so much impossible beauty in Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia, that watching it almost hurts. Not painful hurt – but the kind of bittersweet pang you get from witnessing something so unexpectedly kind or exquisitely lovely that you’re left with a tinge of sadness in its absence. Act for act, Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico – written and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca with Julie Hamelin – is one of the best show’s Cirque has created in its many decades of making outsized spectacles.

Roue Cyr Trapeze from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil 4Luzia begins with a man who falls from the sky, first in a wide-eyed plummet and eventually buoyed by an umbrella that allows him to set down as gently as a monarch on a flower. The clown (Eric Fool Koller, of the Netherlands) is something of a narrator through the magical world of Luzia. It’s a world inspired by the vast and diverse landscapes and cultures of Mexico. Though populated by an array of fantastical creatures based in nature, they also seem like apparitions from a waking fever dream or an especially potent hallucinogen. Or both.

In the world of Luzia, the sights are delightful, haunting and always unexpected: An alabaster-white ballgown bloom with blood-red peonies that open their petals in slow-motion as the woman in the gown sways to the music of an accordion. Insects straight out of “James and the Giant Peach” scuttle and cavort while aerial dancers careen like Icarus long before the fall. A band of gigantic alligators and scarabs strum guitars while a candlelit altar reveals a human spider with Shiva-like powers of limb manipulation. A trio of underwater cacti engage in a punching match with a befuddled team of scuba divers.

Throughout there are massive cascades of water – almost Yosemite-sized falls where millions of drops merge and sparkle apart to form fleeting, shimmering portraits of panthers, horses, cacti, desert flowers, butterflies, altar lace and brilliantly shining birds. It’s all so achingly impossible.

Adagio from Luzia at Cirque du SoleilBlack Majo in Yellow Dress from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil Hoop Diving from Luzia, Cirque du SoleilStraps from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil Chicago 3 Percussions Parade from Luzia, Cirque du SoleilCanes from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil 1

As for the circus arts on display, they are equally wonderful, with an added element of sinewy sensuality mixed in. There’s a great deal of skin in Luzia, as performers move with the grace of prima ballerinas and the strength of Olympic athletes. There is also a good deal of ingeniously crafted funny business.

Take, for example the Luche Libre muscleman (Poland’s Krzystof Holowenko) on the “360 Swing.” Forget six-packs. Dude has an eight pack. Probably a 12-pack if you’re in the first row. Sporting the mask, spandex shorts and superhero cape favored by Luche Libre wrestlers, he careens far out over the audience, high enough to send your heart into your throat (and to make even a minor mishap a major catastrophe).He’s grinning the whole while and egging the audience on, urging them to yell as he reaches heights well past the point of no return.

Then there’s the lifeguard (France’s Ugo Laffolay), perched in his chair high above a cerulean sea where Esther Williams-like coquettes frolic in the waves. Laffolay does a hand balancing act that takes place some 50 or more feet up – standing on his hands on what amounts to a wildly unstable stack of large Tinker Toy-like canes that wobble and bend precariously with his every movement. He’s grinning like a toothpaste commercial the entire time while the bathing beauties below pose and giggle.

Also memorable is Russia’s Alexey Goloborodko. When he first appears you don’t see him even though he’s in full view. What you see is an altar surrounded by hundreds of wavering votive candle flames, something that evokes both High Latin Mass at the Catholic Church and something far, far more ancient. Goloborodko is on the altar, but he’s wrapped up so tightly that you don’t realize he’s human until his arms start snaking out – at which point, it seems like there must be be at least two people up there because no human could contort themselves into such positions. The moment the audience realizes it is just one person, there’s a unified, audible gasp. And then the sound of hundreds of people trying to decide it they have the stomach to witness a body shaped in ways no body is meant to be. Keep your eyes open.

Black Creatures from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil Chicago Canes from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil Chicago 3Swing to Swing from Luzia, Cirque du Soleio, Swing2Swing 2Contorsion from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil

The acrobats and aerial artists are also magnificent. After the clown finds his footing, he’s quickly surrounded by a flock of majestical beaked critters – gorgeous monsters with feathers that ripple and glitter like fish scales. Of course these aren’t just any magical birds: They are a multi-national troupe of tumblers and hoop divers who achieve the height and agility of actual birds.

Luzia shifts scenes with utmost fluidity. From desert to beach, it morphs into a tropical rainforest filled with vines where hundreds of yellow, cat-like beings peep out from the overgrowth – and from the costumes of the creatures scampering up the pole vines and leaping between them if they were monkeys in a rainforest canopy.

Late in the second act, a panther shows up, drinking from a pool bathed in violet light. He’s joined by Canadian strap artist Benjamin Courtenay, who is a dead ringer for a younger Fabio. Courtenay has worked both the big cat puppet and the pool of water into his act, ultimately delivering an aerial dance that is a true force of nature. A second one-man act stars the Czech Republic’s Rudolf Janecek, who spins his silver juggling pins until can see nothing but a gleaming circle of light flashing above his hands. He has the grace and speed of a hummingbird and the luminosity of a thousand fireflies.

The production is backed by Mexico’s Majo Cornejo, whose ethereal voice adds a rich, dynamic and haunting audioscape to the production. The producers have wisely given her an extended a cappella number. When the stage is hushed save for her voice, it’s as if the music of the spheres have been unleashed under the big top.

Cornejo is often backed by a grand group of musicians under the baton of Canadian Sebastien Laurendeau. When the cuatros and the euphonium and the keys and the accordions and the chanrangos join forces, it’s enough to make you at least contemplate purchasing one of the vastly overpriced (imo) CDs in the merch tent.

Or, you can just bask in the memory of the the sounds and the sights of Luzia. They will be with you for some time.

Rating: ★★★★

Luzia continues through September 3rd at United Center Parking Lot K, 1900 W. Madison (map).  Tickets are $35 and up, and are available online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More info at time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes a 25-minute intermission)

Adagio from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil

Photos by Cirque du Soleil 




Majo Cornejo (Mexico, singer), Eric Fool Koller (Netherlands, clown), Shelli Epstein (U.K., running woman), Stéphane Beauregard (Canada, hoop diver diver, Chinese pole), Dominic Cruz (USA, hoop diver), Devin Henderson (USA, hoop diver, Chinese pole), Marta Henderson (USA , hoop diver), Michael Hottier (France, hoop diver), Maya Kesselman (USA , hoop diver), Ian Vazquez (Spain , hoop diver), Kelly McDonald (USA, flyer), Naomi Zimmerman (Canada, flyer), Anton Glazkov (Russia, porter) Krzystof Holowenko (Poland, porter), Grzegorz Piotr Ros (Poland, porter), Angelica Bongiovonni (USA, cyr wheel), Enya White (Canada, trapeze), Ugo Laffolay (France, canes), Laura Biondo (Italy/Venezuela, football dance), Abou Traoré (Guinea, football dance), Kelly McDonald (USA, pole dance specialist), Marta Henderson (USA, Chinese pole), Maya Kesselman (USA, Chinese pole), Krzystof Holowenko (Poland, 360 swing), Gerardo Ballester Franzoni (Mexico, puppeteer), Laura Biondo (Italy/Venezuela, puppeteer), Emmanuel Cyr (Canada, puppeteer, cacti), Benjamin Courtenay (Canada, straps), Rudolf Janecek (Czech Republic, juggler), Alexey Goloborodko (Russia, contortionist), Diana Ham (Mexico, scuba diver), Gerardo Ballester Franzoni (Mexico, cacti), Laura Biondo (Italy/Venezuela, cacti), Artsiom Bykau (Belarus, swing to swing), Maksim Kazlou (Belarus, swing to swing), Oksana Klymenko (Ukraine, swing to swing), Serhii Lytvyshchenko (Ukraine, swing to swing), Uladzimir Maliutsin (Belarus, swing to swing), Alexander Mishchenko (Russia, swing to swing), Uladzimir Rabinka (Belarus, swing to swing), Alina Sotnikava (Belarus, swing to swing), Yuriy Tsvirko (Belarus, swing to swing), Dzmitry Zhukau


Sébastien Laurendeau (Canada, bandleader, bass, percussion), Felipe Saray (Colombia, keyboard, guitar, accordion), Yilmer Vivas (Venezuela, drums, cuatro), Joenuel Lebron-Millan (Puerto Rico, trumpet, flugel horn), Juan David Pavas (Colombia, tuba, euphonium), Rodrigo la Mora (Mexico, guitars, charango).

behind the scenes

Daniele Finzi Pasca, Julie Hamelin (directors), Eugenio Caballero (set and props design), Simon Carpentier (composer), Patricia Ruel (director of creation), Sébastien Laurendeau (music director)

Contortion from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil Chicago 1Football Dance from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil ChicagoBlack Fishheads from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil ChicagoHoop Diving from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil Chicago 5Roue Cyr Trapeze from Luzia, Cirque du Soleil 2Prologue from Luzia at Cirque du Soleil


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Circus, Cirque du Soleil, Performance Art - Circus, United Center, Video, YouTube

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