Amaluna captures a tempest under a big-top

Amaluna 1
Laura Jacobs Rigolo steals the show with her hypnotic balancing act in the highly entertaining Cirque du Soleil show Amaluna under the yellow-and-blue-striped big-top just outside AT&T Park. Below: The Castaways defy gravity with a thrilling teeterboard act. Photos by Laurence Labat

The last time Cirque du Soleil rolled through town with Totem in 2011, the company seemed refreshed and revived. Gone was the pretentious stuttering and back was the purely enjoyable spectacle and thrill.

Now with Amaluna, the company’s 32nd show since 1984, they remain firmly in that mind-blowing, eye candy groove, and it feels so good. Broadway veteran Diane Paulus is at the helm, and though there’s a vague attempt to riff on an all-female version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, that’s really just an excuse to hire a lot of great women (including a kick-ass, all-girl band) and put on an eye-popping pageant.

Paulus, whose Tony-winning Porgy and Bess opened in San Francisco earlier this week, has done a lovely job integrating the essence of a story with the spectacle and the circus acts. There’s an extremely high level of beauty in this Cirque outing, from the grace of Scott Pask’s set (influenced, it seems, by peacocks and fireworks) to the dazzle of Mérédith Caron’s era-busting costumes to the exquisite lighting by Matthieu Larivée. There’s really nothing on stage for 2 1/2 hours that isn’t, in some way, absolutely gorgeous (the exception being, as is so often the case in a Cirque show, the tiresome clowns).

Amaluna 2

There’s an aerial ballet in Act 1 that is thrilling and steamy, accompanied by Prospera (the gender-altered Prospero played by Julie McInnes) playing the cello while dangling from the moon and two purple-clad electric guitar players (homage to Prince?). It’s the perfect combo of circus act trimmed with just enough theater to give it a little meaning and then sumptuous dressing to make it irresistible. The same is true for the giant water bowl on stage. Prospera’s daughter, Miranda (Iulia Mykhailova), does some hand balancing on the rim of the bowl before diving in and doing a confined aquatic ballet in which she is later joined by a shipwrecked Romeo (Evgeny Kurkin at Friday’s opening-night performance).

There’s a sharp, all-women uneven bars act and a zippy all-male teeterboard, but the highlight of the show is Laura Jacobs Rigolo’s surprising balancing act, which involves the manipulation of what look like small to large palm fronds with the tines shaved off. Slowly and gracefully, she lifts each frond with a foot and places one on another until she’s holding a delicately balanced leaf-like sculpture. At one point, she places the whole contraption on her head and spins slowly. That’s it – that’s the act. But it’s among the most mesmerizing and beautiful I’ve ever seen. No flash, no ta-da! Just delicacy, grace and quiet skill. In the flashy world of Cirque, it’s practically poetry.

Not that there’s anything wrong with flash. When Amaluna turns on the spectacle, costumes flaring, acrobats spinning and flying, the band (playing music by Bob & Bill) wailing – it’s the joy of the circus combined with that Ziegfeldian need for color, lights and sparkle and the sheer pleasure of expertly orchestrated pageantry. That’s what Cirque can do better than just about anybody and what Amaluna does with warmth and charm.

[bonus interview
It’s what we’re calling the great Paulus-palooza of 2013. I talked to Diane Paulus about directing Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna (and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess) for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.

Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna continues through Dec. 31 at AT&T Park, Third Street and Terry A. François Boulevard, San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$175. Call 800-450-1480 or visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *