There is something undeniably magical about the blue and white peaks of the big top superimposed on a coastal San Francisco skyline. On Nov. 7, in the shadow of the vibrant Chase Center’s LEDs, the tents stood illuminated by stadium-esque lights, with the audience convening on the venue for a taste of that magic. Tucked behind the crackling pavement of an unassuming parking lot, the eccentric theatrics of Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna” were immediately palpable. Acrobats in elaborate costumes, soaked in the brilliant blue and gold palette of the show, towered over patrons on stilts. Walking and ducking through playful balloon arches across an appropriately cerulean carpet, these performers were only an amuse-bouche of the elaborate spectacle to come.
“Amaluna” comes as the first collaboration between Cirque du Soleil and Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus. The production, mounted by a rotating cast of performers and based on William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” centers on protagonists Romeo and Miranda’s forbidden love and the colorful high-flying obstacles that plague it.
Beneath the towering big top, a deceptively small array of seats circle the stage. The stage itself, dormant and dimmed prior to the show’s start, is relatively bare. Other than a miragelike swirling light projected on the stage’s center, there is little to indicate the grandeur the performance troupe has become so notorious for. Shortly before showtime, however, vivacious and energetic cast members round the stage, encouraging both cheers and jeers. With some wielding pounding drums, and others various props, these cast members establish a wily repartee between each other and the audience.
Most notably, the adorable pet and petty antagonist, Cali — half-human, half-lizard – is at any point liable to snatch a phone for a lick and a selfie or climb to high heights and decorate audiences below with a flurry of popcorn.
From the playful audience cheer-off to the booming drum circle, these early performances are integral to set the stage for the show. The wordless dialogue is a prelude to Cirque du Soleil’s notorious ability to regale audiences with moving stories through acrobatics and kineticism alone.
And in this vein, the show doesn’t disappoint.
The story is simple enough to follow, a seeming staple to allow audiences to remain grounded in the story while being distracted by daring acts. “Amaluna” begins with some of the most colorful and whimsical exposition ever seen, featuring performances anywhere from ornately costumed unicyclists to daring aerialists. But the show far exceeds exclusively circus-centered theatrics, also employing stunning and dynamic soundtracks. Conducted by the powerhouse that is Prospera, a sorceress wielding a luminous electric cello, the show’s all-female band scores every act with precision. To see performance and music mitigated in this way is the icing on what audiences are sure to agree is already a very sweet cake.
The moments between the action are also never dull. A secondary love story, featuring the expert slapstick of clowns Papulya and Maïnha, augments the show’s narrative. The pair’s relationship acts, in many ways, like the show’s lungs — an exhale from the exhilarating antics of the production’s acrobats.
But these antics are nothing to scoff at, as each performance ups the ante for the next. From the high-flying trampolining of Romeo’s camp to the aerial goddesses of Miranda’s, audiences have every reason to keep eyes fixed on the skies and stage in equal measure. Miranda and Romeo also boast respectively impressive displays of acrobatics. In the middle of the show, audiences are treated to Miranda’s fluid balancing act above the water bowl — often plunging into the small glass basin at breakneck speeds (and heights). Romeo similarly stuns in a sensuous pole-based routine in which he dives from several feet head first, stopping just above the stage using only the strength of his thighs.
All of the show’s elements coalesce into a dynamic and moving adventure, one audiences will surely not want to miss.
“Amaluna” is showing under the big top in Oracle Park through Jan. 12, 2020.
Areyon Jolivette is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].