Exhilarating. Exuberant. Excellent.
These are but a few words to describe Cirque du Soleil's latest touring show, "Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico," under a white and gold big-top tent in parking lot K outside Chicago's United Center. But mere words can't accurately do it justice. This surreal journey needs to be experienced in person, as do all Cirque shows, of which this is the 38th.
"Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico"★ ★ ★ ★
Where: United Center, Parking Lot K, 1901 W. Madison St., Chicago
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4:30 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday
Running time: About 2 hours, 30 minutes, with intermission
Parking: In the United Center lots, limited street parking
Rating: For all ages
The boisterous crowd opening night completely bought in to the jubilant nature of this acro-heavy story, which follows the Traveler, the sophisticated but comic "clown" whose waking dream we experience firsthand on his quest to find water and perhaps the key to imagination while on a journey through Mexico.
The acrobatics -- highflying tumbling from oversize swing to oversize swing, hoop diving/flipping on a moving treadmill spanning the middle of the circular stage, a trapeze artist at one point hanging by one foot high in the air, three "porters" hurling a flyer (a seductive woman in pink) through the air, acrobats leaping and flipping from pole to pole -- on their own are a feat to behold. But when you add in such elements as water cascading from the rafters over the artists to evoke rain, the element of danger has just been upped. The acrobatic choreographers -- Edesia Moreno Barata, Debra Brown and Sylvia Gertrúdix González -- let their imaginations run wild with this show.
From audible gasps at the out-of-this-world flexibility of the contortionist to the encouraging cheers for a do-over when the speed juggler dropped two pins while attempting an intricate series of tosses, a back tuck, spins and catches (the trick worked the second time) the show lends itself to an experience like no other. Not to mention the edge-of-your-seat anxiety as the strongman "lifeguard" built two rows of canes higher and higher (close to 20 feet above the stage), upon which he does a press handstand to balance on both hands, then one hand.
Floating. Fluid. Fascinating.
The artists, exhibiting perfect form throughout the show, manage to create great fluidity with their movements, from the most daring tricks to the way they dance, sing, play instruments and move while clearing the intimate, in-the-round stage of excess water between acts. Cirque has certainly perfected the art of motion. And set changes (and intricate sets -- the spaceshiplike disc hanging in the back transitions from an early-morning sun to an eclipse to a blazing sunset with ease). To be able to go from a dry stage to a water-filled cenote below the spinning, water-drenched aerial straps artist without missing a beat is quite a feat of engineering, especially in a touring show.
Speaking of beats, the music, of course with a Mexican bent, and musicians keep the show moving but can easily improvise if a stunt goes awry, as it did when one of the hoop-tumbling artists was a little off on a jump, causing the hoops to come crashing down.
I would be remiss not to mention the elegant costumes -- each more brilliant (a light shining on a mirrored costume creates a mirror ball effect throughout the tent) than the last. Especially impressive is one singer's floor-length white dress that magically blooms with large red flowers (hibiscus, possibly) as she sings. And the animals -- the oversized silver horse and the puma -- were brought to life in movable costumes with the help of a few performance artists. And the props. Soccer balls easily became an extension of the football dancers' arms, legs, head and body as they engaged in a dance-off in the rain.
My only quibble is that the intermission was to run 25 minutes, but it was over 40 minutes, which is way too long, especially with no explanation.
But, no matter. If this truly is a waking dream of Mexico, then what a fabulous dream it is.