Friday, January 20, 2012

Cirque du Soleil unveils Amaluna

While I knew the newest Cirque du Soleil show was going to be called Amaluna (the name was trademarked last October), it was still a thrill for the show to be announced last Monday. Amaluna by Cirque du Soleil will open this April under the direction of Diane Paulus, and will revolve around the themes of femininity.

Amaluna director Diane Paulus.
Amalauna (a word which amalgams the Latin word for mother 'Ama' and the general word for moon 'Luna') is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, in addition to drawing upon influences of. The titular location is an exotic island which is inhabited by the powerful sorceress Prospera (played by the fabulous Julie Andrea McInnes), who has invited the goddesses of the world to join with her in a ceremony which will celebrate her daughter's ascension to womanhood. The ceremony involves Prospera conjuring a gargantuan tempest, which coincidentally ensnares a passing ship in the ocean's currents and causes it to crash on the island. It's love at first sight when a handsome young sailor among the crew falls head-over-heels in love with Prospera's daughter, who returns his affections. Once the couple surrender to their emotions and conquer their obstacles, the inhabitants of the island led by Prospera hold a celebration for their love and her daughter's rise to womanhood.

I didn't really handle it well when I first heard the vague briefing back in August. When I first heard the theme was revolving around women power and to be based on The Tempest, I was pretty distressed. It was around August last year (the same day I saw Sarah Winter's incredible Scratch piece) I spent a good hour clawing at my face and walked around the rest of the afternoon with my fists clenched - when I ran into David Berthold he tried to shake my hand and I had to refuse since I said my hands were all sweaty. He probably thought I'd been masturbating or something. Anyway, my initial reaction has pretty much totally faded away and I am confident this is going to be a fantastic production.

A rendering of the Amaluna set design from Scott Pask.
Diane Paulus has an impressive resume track record of working in real theatre. Some of her most notable pieces in her career include the 2009 revival of Hair, which was awarded the Tony for Best Musical Revival, and last year she directed Canadian Opera's new production of The Magic Flute.  She has most recently risen to public attention through her controversial adaptation of Porgy and Bess, which opened in New York earlier this month. Although the production is provoking mixed reactions, I am thrilled that Cirque has made the choice to employ a director who is not afraid to take bold decisions and directions, to hopefully break them out of their formulaic and lacklustre era. Paulus' random approach might blow up in their face, but she is not some random choreographer, a defunct clown, or a figure who has no association with theatre. She is a qualified, experienced theatre director. Because of Paulus' leadership, in addition to her husband Randy Weiner seving as a dramaturge, this work will focus on the theatrical elements of Cirque du Soleil. Interestingly, Paulus and Weiner staged a rock opera adaptation of The Tempest a few years back (Cirque's website neglects to mention this anywhere in their theatre credits). I was a little put out that the concept wasn't entirely original, but I'm a fan of creative development, and hopefully Paulus will draw upon the successes and failures of their last production to ensure that this one works.

The rest of the creation team generally sound quite promising. World renowned and long-term collaborator Debra Brown returns to work her magic on choreography, and Mérédith Caron returns to Cirque for a second time after Believe in 2009 to work with her magic on costumes. Tony award winner Scott Pask is working on the set design, which looks amazing with the utilization of plants and other foliage to decorate and transform the chapiteau. Originally to be led by French-Canadian world vocalist Nitza Melas, the creators I'm most uneasy on is the return of Bob and Bill. The Canadian duo are composers who have worked for Cirque on several projects, including being the composers on Robert Lepage's 2010 production of Totem. Their music is fine and appropriate but lacks the power and grandeur of previous Cirque scores. Hopefully they will really utilize their fantastic singers and pump out some great anthems for this show - this sneak peek of the material at Cirque Week 2011 sounds promising, although the promo on the official website sounds like it was written for Ruben Guthrie.

Acts that are billed to appear so far are Aerial Hoops (featuring Cirque veteran Marie-Michelle Faber), High Bar, Aerial Straps, and a new dicipline will join Cirque when Lara Jacobs from Rigolo Nouveau Cirque will perform her Rigolos Sanddorn Balance act.

What excites me most about Amaluna is that it will most likely return Cirque to its real roots. Not their tacky original image of circus driven by people who perform tricks, but their amalgam of avant-garde theatrical elements with incredible acrobatic feats. It's very early to make any real calls on the quality of Amaluna, but the website launch and press release earlier this week are good signs. The aesthetic on the website is gorgeous. The combination of colours rarely gets pulled off properly since pink and blue are usually hideous, but it seems to be used in appropriate proportions here to make a really interesting, contrasting design.
Despite what most audiences think, merely performing a sequence of tricks does not warrant a good Cirque du Soleil act. Although almost all the acts within the show are technically proficient, in terms of its value as a theatrical work most of Cirque du Soleil's recent offerings have been severely lacking. Hopefully under Paulus' direction Cirque will be able to reconnect with the image that distinguished them as an entertainment empire of the highest quality.

I'm really hoping that this production will be excellent. The synopsis and premise sounds whimsical, the show will have phenomenal artists appearing in it and the creation is being handled by people who are experienced in creating theatre. I'm hoping that the show won't flop like Zarkana, which looked fantastic then tried to shit on New York (which thankfully saw through it). I guess we'll have to wait for the show's premier in April.

Amaluna by Cirque du Soleil opens in Montreal on April 19th. Tickets range from $40 to $139.50. Book by visiting Cirque du Soleil's official website or by calling 1-800-450-1480.

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