Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia low on thrills, big on beauty

Luzia 3
The feathered hoop diving squad opens the new Cirque du Soleil show Luzia in the gold-and-white tent in the parking lot at AT&T Park. Below: Benjamin Courtenay works magic on the straps in the rain. Photos by Laurence Labat / Costumes: Giovanna Buzzi / 2016 Cirque du Soleil

Having seen abundant Cirque du Soleil shows over the years, I’ve come to think of them as lovely packages. It’s not what’s inside the package that intrigues – we know each one will be filled with some of the world’s best acrobats, assorted clowns and acts that range from prosaic to heartstopping, dopey to achingly beautiful. So it’s not the content so much as the packaging itself that makes the arrival of a new Cirque show so exciting.

The newest touring show, Luzia is subtitled “a waking dream of Mexico,” and while all Cirque shows have a dreamy, slightly hallucinatory quality to them, Luzia really does feel like a dream. The Mexican theme lends itself to rich, jewel-like colors, some of the best music I’ve heard in a Cirque show (lots of guitar and trumpet and singing in an actual language!) and a beautifully textured design that incorporates rain and storm, sun and moon, desert and jungle, tradition and modernity.

It’s a spectacularly lovely show that feels earthbound rather than some bizarro Cirque-invented reality. Humans and nature feature prominently in the design, and in the shorthand of Cirque tours, this is the one that will be known for featuring rain and a pool of water to great effect. Every time the curtain of rain descends from the top of the tent, the results are spectacular. The first act to get wet involves three women – Angelica Bongiovonni, Rachel Salzman and Emily Tucker – bathed in golden light, one on a trapeze and two in Cyr wheels (giant hoops). The round stage, ringed with primeval desert plants, revolves while the women spin through an act that feels more like dance than circus. That quality infuses a number of the acts, which is especially welcome.

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In Act 2, Benjamin Courtenay performs his straps act above a small pool, and while he flies around the stage, he skims through the water, his long hair flipping drops across the stage like the best shampoo commercial ever. Prowling around the periphery of the pool is a giant puppet jaguar, one of several impressive animal puppets paraded across the stage.

The whole show, including the 25-minute intermission, is about 2 1/2 hours, and while it’s all pleasant, it’s fairly low on the thrill meter. Act 1 dazzles more with lights, sets and costumes than it does with actual acts. Except for the addition of a treadmill to a hoop-diving act, there’s not much to write home about. Act 2 features livelier acts, including a a masked wrestler (Krzystof Holowenko on a 360-degree swing and a contortionist (Aleksei Goloborodko) who defies all logic. I am freaked out by contortionists, and let it be a compliment to Mr. Goloborodko that I could barely peek at his act through the fingers covering my face.

There’s also a high-speed juggler (Rudolf Janecek) and a finale involving some high-flying leaps from swings that’s liable to cause some cardiac palpitation.

The clowning in Luzia is topped by the sweet antics of Eric Fool Koller, but the acts are not especially memorable (except the Act 2 scuba diving sequence, which is memorably awful).

Luzia ends with a big fiesta, revelers jumping on tables and having a marvelous time. The show itself feels less like that kind of party and more like a gorgeously rendered fantasy of Mexico that would make any wannabe wall builder feel like the world’s biggest idiot.

[sneak peek]
Here’s a look at some of the highlights of Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia

Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia continues through Jan. 29 in the Big Top at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Tickets start at $49. Visit The show movees to San Jose Feb. 9 through March 19.

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