Entertainment » Theatre

Take Cirque du Soleil Magic, Add Water and You Get 'Luzia'

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Thursday Jun 28, 2018

"Luzia" is one of the more ambitious Cirque du Soleil shows, mostly because of one element: water. Using a curtain of rain - a technical wonder that can be a torrential storm one minute, and drops of water the next - it creates both an extra level of visual wonder to the show, as well as an extra level of difficulty for the often-soaked performers.

Cirque has set up its trademark yellow-and-blue tent at Suffolk Downs to house "Luzia," which plays there through August 12. For more details, visit the show's website.

What "Luzia" celebrates is Mexico - its culture, its geography, its people, and is the first Cirque show to focus on an individual country. "The theme of 'Luzia' is the cultural heritage of Mexico," writes critic Chris Jones in his review in the Chicago Tribune, "and (writer/director Daniele Finzi) Pasca's conceit makes it feel like the acts are flowing directly from the countryside, arising from inter-generational familial celebrations, rainforest exuberance, even the country's love of soccer, a discipline that requires only a ball to enthrall."

As with most Cirque shows, the show is largely free of dialogue, with a loose-knit, dreamlike narrative that begins with a clown falling from the sky to the Mexican countryside, from where the show's journey begins.

A scene from "Luzia."

"The show is really a journey that we are going to take the audience through an imaginary Mexico with different representations of Mexican culture, mythology, vibrant music, beautiful colors, beautiful costumes and just mind-blowing acrobatics," explains Gracie Valdez, who is an artistic director for Cirque on a recent visit to Boston. She was joined for an interview with adagio artist (i.e. acrobatic gymnast) Kelly McDonald and the show's publicist Francis Jalbert.

Performed on a huge, revolving stage, what makes the show unique amongst Cirque shows is the use of the rain curtain, a technological innovation that explores the interplay between "luz" (light) and "lluvia" (rain) - words that combine to give the show its title.

"Water in itself is its own character in our show," Valdez says. "We knew what we wanted and hoped to accomplish, but it took a lot of research and development and playing with the technology. This technology itself is not used anywhere, let alone within a traveling production. So it took a lot of experimentation, a lot of great minds doing computer work and coding and trial and error."

One of the show's more spectacular effects is how the rain curtain is used to create shapes and images that recall cut paper designs. The images, such as fish swimming accompanied by birds, aren't projected. "The water is actually creating the pictures instead of a projection," explains Valdez. "It is the water actually being kind-of produced out of the rain curtain itself to create the images."

Adagio artist Kelly McDonald performing in "Luzia."

For adagio artist Kelly McDonald the water adds another level of difficulty to her performance. To make it work, Cirque designers and technicians found ways to adapt techniques that work in dry situations and apply them to wet ones, which the performers learned. The results, McDonald says, makes for an entirely different experience for both performers and audience.

"I get to literally swing and fly through rain, and I can feel that difference. You breathe differently when you get hit by the water. And I think it adds to my character when I am under the rain, too. So you get to feel that and react to the rain as if it was another character in the show."

"It is quite amazing and surreal to see," adds Jalbert.

"Luzia" sprung from the creative imagination of Daniele Finzi Pasca, who wanted to honor his experiences of living in Mexico. "It is inspired by Mexico, Valdez recalls, "but we don't want to go too literal. That was never the intention. It is a homage to Daniele's experiences, as well as those of the directors, creators and designers, who spent time living and working in Mexico. What they wanted to express. So there are references to cultural tradition, mythology, folklore, artworks, the regions within the country itself, and history."

A scene from "Luzia."

Next the creative team came up with ways to integrate the performers into the concept. "It is like in the movies when filmmakers shape storyboard of the show and have an idea of each scene and what they want. With Cirque it is what type of acrobatics they want, what the feel of each scene will be, what the characters will be. And the ideas evolve as the production team works with the performers. It is very organic the way we are work," explains Jalbert.

With sets by Oscar-winning Mexican set designer Eugenio Caballero ("Pan's Labyrinth"), the vibrant, divergent Mexican locales - filled with butterflies, hummingbirds, flowers, cacti - act as surreal backdrops to the amazing work of the show's artists, who include McDonald, who left her career in business to join the circus as an aerial acrobat. In the show, she headlines in a sequence called "Adagio," in which she is propelled into the air by three hunky men seemingly defying the laws of gravity.

What McDonald loves about "Luzia" is the interaction she has with the audience.

"I get to do what I am passionate about, and I get to share feelings through physical feats that are hopefully impressive. And that's what I love. And I think that if anyone can share something they are passionate about and what they love, no matter what it is, then whoever can receive that can take out an inspiration from it. For me, I get to feel that reaction and I love that. That's what I heat off of every night. That's why it is fresh for me each night. So when I go on stage if it's my first show or my 800th show, it is fresh because I get a new reaction, I have new face I am looking into out in the audience, and I am adapting to my partners for that day. It is that passion that I get to share that keeps it fresh and that's why I do this and why I am on the road and with this circus family we travel with."

A scene from "Luzia."

What makes "Luzia" worth seeing for those who have seen earlier Cirque shows?

"You come to expect a certain quality from Cirque shows, but the shows are so varied," says McDonald. "And because we have a new theme, all new acts, new music that's lively and fun, and new apparatus designed especially for this show. The rain is new; the treadmills are new. It is a fresh show that's really for all ages. You see all ages in the audience and you can see the response from everybody. People have a really good time. They gasp, they laugh, they're amazed. We have swing-to-swing acts that have bigger swings than have been used before. People are flying higher than they've flown before. So we have lots of new elements technically and acrobatically, So with the fresh cast, you have a new energy and something really fun that you can see for this first time."

"Visually this is the most surprising show we've put out into the big top because each act has its own feel," adds Jalber. "For instance, in one scene you are in a bar scene or a cantina, then we are taking you to the desert with cactus trees. Then it starts raining; then in another act you feel you are at a street corner in Mexico City. Each scene really takes you to a different universe, and there are so many props and technology involved that it really feels you are traveling without leaving the seat. I think what we have achieved under the big top with 'Luzia' is that we have really raised the bar than what we have done before."

After the show closes in Boston, "Luzia" heads out of the country and celebrates engagements in Mexico until the end of the year. "Usually Mexico is reserved to later in the life of a Cirque show, but the promoter really wanted us to bring this one and I think it is a perfect fit," explains Jalber. "I think the reception is going to be great. All of those people with Mexican backgrounds that have seen the show rave about it because the show brings together so many influences from different elements of Mexico - the culture, the landscape, the mythology; but if your Mexican, every little thing you can relate to. I think they see it as a very artistic and beautiful tribute to their country."

"Luzia" continues through August 12 at Suffolk Downs, East Boston. For more details, visit the show's website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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