Acrobatic bodies somersaulting through the air at Atlantic Station can mean only one thing: Cirque du Soleil is back in town. The new production, “Luzia,” though not as strong as last year’s freshly inventive and delightfully surreal “Kurios,” still provides plenty of flash, color and thrills — a few are downright jaw-dropping — all of which will assure audiences that the old Cirque magic is still very much in place.
“Luzia” premiered in the company’s home city of Montreal in 2016 and is currently making its first tour around the U.S. The show takes its thematic and visual inspiration from Mexico, particularly the natural world: Acrobats, puppeteers, musicians and clowns appear as frogs, panthers, iguanas, birds, butterflies and even cactuses. Rows of colorful maravilla flowers and primitive Aztec-style decorative patterns provide the backdrop. Dazzling lights suggest the sun of the Mexican desert, and water effects emulate the country’s sudden, drenching rains.
Indeed, the use of water here, a Cirque first for a touring show, provides some of the evening’s best moments. An aerial artist sensually dips into and out of a small pool that opens up at the base of the stage, and a trapezist swings through a thick waterfall cascading from the top of the tent. Somewhat strangely, one of the evening’s most dazzling moments doesn’t involve performers at all, as beautifully lit sheets of falling water momentarily take the shape of images. One first sees the tumbling waters forming tapestry-like patterns, then images of fish or butterflies or horses briefly appear before dissipating as the water hits the floor. The trippy effect elicits a well-earned gasp from the audience.
In general, the production swings a little more toward the narrative and the theatrical side than some other Cirque shows, which often cluster together acrobatic and clown acts more loosely. Here, comedy and acrobatics, music and performance, dance and stunts are melded together into a discernible storyline. One nonspeaking central character, the charming clown Eric Fool Koller, parachutes into a surreal, dreamlike version of the Mexican desert, and one by one, “Alice in Wonderland”-style, he encounters the strange people, plants and animals that inhabit the landscape.
A couple of the segments involve more puppetry and dance than acrobatics, but still, the emphasis remains on the physical feats. Swings, trapeze, aerial ropes, Cyr wheels, poles and juggling are all memorable, though somehow the soccer stunts, meant to suggest the country’s affinity for the game, seem too prosaic when placed alongside the other more surreally extraordinary stunts.
You probably won’t get the chance to ask yourself the sensible question, “What on earth does a Russian contortionist have to do with Mexico?” because you’ll be gobsmacked by the freaky, insect-like moves of performer Aleksei Goloborodko, whose Act 2 appearance is undoubtedly one of the evening’s highlights.
A central treadmill and rotating stage help keep things moving, and though the evolving stage pictures can be busy with performers and activity, the overall feeling is satisfyingly intimate and balanced.
Singer Majo Cornejo and guitarist Rodrigo de la Mora lead the band in providing lovely music keeping with the Mexican theme, though little of it feels like a true departure from the sound and style of Cirque’s previous soundtracks. The addition of a tuba and multiple musicians (dressed as alligators, no less) on the marimba in one number does create some excitingly fresh sounds and truly inventive moments, however.
For some of us, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that Cirque du Soleil was a new thing, but the fact is that “Luzia” is Cirque’s 38th production. The “strange little circus company” has now become the largest theatrical producer in the world. Cirque has gotten very good at what it does: The company shows people exactly what they came to see while making it all seem fresh and exciting. “Predictably surprising” is a niche, and Cirque’s biggest competitor is now seemingly itself.
Audience members who have seen previous shows will probably flip through their catalog of memories and call up a show that wowed them more than this year’s offering, but most who arrive at the tent this year, especially kids and others watching for the first time, will agree that in the end, “Luzia” conjures up some pretty special big-top magic.
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