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Regional Reviews: Chicago

Cirque du Soleil: Luzia
National Tour
Review by John Olson | Season Schedule

Aleksei Goloborodko
Photo by Matt Beard
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed for good this past spring, but thanks to the likes of "America's Got Talent" on TV, we have plenty of opportunity to see circus acts like acrobats, jugglers and contortionists. So, the venerable Cirque du Soleil, which has been putting on shows for some 33 years now, has to do more than ever to amaze audiences with the feats of its performers—and continue to do what it has always done: perform these circus-inspired acts with extraordinary theatrical artistry. Their new touring show Luzia, which is playing for the summer in their 2,600-seat tent installed right outside Chicago's United Center, does all of that, with gorgeously designed lighting, costumes, and special effects. Particularly in the show's second half, there are some stunning acts that go beyond what would seem to be human limits.

Luzia—an amalgam of the Spanish words "luz" (light) and "lluvia" (rain)—is nominally Mexican themed, though it's not an exploration of authentic Mexican culture. The performers are mostly European (from both Western and Eastern Europe) and the tasty musical score by Simon Carpentier is not particularly evocative of Mexican music. Yet, light and water are everywhere in this production. Martin Labrecque's lighting design is big on reds, yellows and oranges that suggest the hot sunlight of Mexico. There's rain—shown in sheets of water that fall from the top of the tent to barely visible drains on the stage. And there is an underwater effect in which our "guide," the clown Eric Fool Koller of the Netherlands, has a scuba diving adventure. The aerial strap acrobat Benjamin Courtenay of Canada, who is stunning enough with what he can accomplish high above the stage, rises and descends suddenly, coming so close to the surface of the stage that his long hair dips into a shallow pool of water on it.

Luzia's through-line follows our clown as he parachutes to the surface from high above the stage. A bit lost, he begins a journey through Mexico. He is first deprived of water and futilely tries to fill his canteen from a teasing water wall that is always where he is not. Along the way, he stops on a beach, goes scuba diving, and ultimately arrives at what may have been his intended destination all along—a fiesta attended by the entire cast. Along the way, he meets some life-size puppets designed by Max Humphries, and passes dancers, acrobats and musicians adorned in some of the 750 costume pieces designed by Giovanna Buzzi.

With or without Luzia's stunning production design, there are acts that amaze. Ugo Laffolay of France assembles a tower of interlocking canes that take him up near the top of the big tent. Ten acrobats from Belarus and Ukraine fly from swing to swing in multiple teams without missing a landing. Rudolph Janecek of the Czech Republic juggles way more clubs than one would imagine possible. And the contortionist Aleksei Goloborodko twists his body in unimaginable ways, like sticking his head between his legs by bending over backwards rather than forwards. It's as impressive as it is a little frightening.

As awe-inspiring as are the acts, there's a certain grace and beauty—a tribute to nature—that makes the whole piece, directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, who wrote it with Julie Hamelin Fonzie, elegant and relaxing rather than manic. It's a soothing respite into a fantasy world that provides both an escape from our crazy summer while reminding us of the world's beauty.

Luzia will play the United Center parking lot through September 3, 2017. Tickets and more information are available online at

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