Returning home from Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia at the Royal Albert Hall, I posted a quick mention on Instagram. The next morning there were several likes and comments from performers in the show. We expect that sort of engagement after shows from small companies, in small venues, but not so much after shows that list 14 different credits…just for the programme! It was a valuable reminder that while Cirque du Soleil is a juggernaut, it carries individual artists who train, and practise, and injure themselves, and have enormous discipline, and take huge risks. Just because it’s glossy, private equity funded and corporately sponsored, doesn’t mean it’s not personal.
The creative team, for their part, have brought Mexico to South Kensington. There is a micro-climate on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall, which shimmers with heat. A scene in the forest is so beautifully lit, to evoke sunlight filtering through dense foliage, that you can almost feel the humidity. The use of water, throughout the show, is unexpected, counterintuitive and exhilarating. Wandering this steamy landscape are armadillos, swordfish, crocodiles and cacti with lawnmowers. It’s delightfully surreal and witty.
The unifying thread of the show is a hapless traveller (the clown), journeying through the chaos and colour of Mexico. More than in last year’s show, Totem, this clown feels like an integral part of the action, and some of his goofing around is quite entertaining, though I wonder if it is entirely visible from the outer reaches of the auditorium. On his travels he encounters playful hummingbirds, dancing beetles, reptile percussionists and, of course, a variety of performing citizens, in a range of Mexican tropes.
It probably goes without saying that the circus skills are eyes-on-stalks awesome. The adagio performance, with one woman flying between three ‘bases’, is terrifying for how close she swings to the ground, but also because the choreography is so unpredictable that you’re never quite sure there’ll be someone in place to catch her. Performers with cores of steel hang upside-down and sideways, climb up, plummet, perch, swing and spin. Cyr wheelers in sunshine yellow weave in and out, narrowly avoiding each other, and framing a trapeze dancer between them. In this vibrant and sensuous ‘waking dream of Mexico’, the audience is never asked to focus reverently on just one thing. There is always an ensemble, always more than one thing going on, and not the least of the show’s marvels is its capacity for misdirection, meaning that you can be watching the stage intently, yet suddenly realise that the flowers have vanished or a row of trees appeared.
Music is absolutely integral to the spectacle, as are the musicians who, far from being hidden away in a pit, are prominent on stage and as eccentrically costumed as any of the circus artists. The percussion and euphonium accompaniment to Cylios Pytlak’s juggling is absolutely on point, but most perfect of all is the music for the swing-to-swing finale. This hair-raising set piece involves acrobats stepping casually onto one of two narrow swings in motion, then leaping off, somersaulting and landing by some miracle on the opposite, moving swing. The music stops, with split second precision, at each exact moment that an acrobat takes off and the audience stops breathing.
I reviewed Totem last year, and felt that some of the acts lacked emotion, despite being objectively astonishing. In Luzia, the designers have a created a universe so vivid and eccentric that it pulls everything together and imparts character to even the less visceral performances. A really glorious, exciting universe in which to spend an evening.
Author: Daniele Finzi Pasca and Julie Hamelin Finzi
Director: Patricia Ruel
Booking link: https://tickets.royalalberthall.com/production/66113
Box office: 020 7589 8212
Booking until: Sunday 1 March 2020