AMALUNA directed by Diane Paulus (Cirque du Soleil). At the Grand Chapiteau (Commissioners and Cherry). To November 4. $43.50-$158.50. Rating: NNNN See listing.
Amaluna isn't Cirque du Soleil's most memorable show, but it's not just a series of loosely strung together stunts either. Credit veteran theatre and opera director Diane Paulus for drawing on Shakespeare and Greek myths to fashion one kick-ass celebration of woman power.
The statuesque Prospera (Julie McInnes) rules over a mysterious island populated by goddesses, her daughter Miranda (Iuliia Mykhailova) and a strange lizard-like creature named Cali (Viktor Kee), who later demonstrates some wicked juggling skills. When a storm washes a group of sailors ashore, Miranda falls for Romeo (Edouard Doye), and Mom sets a series of tests to usher the girl into adulthood.
What makes the show so special is the clever, tongue-in-cheek way Paulus has structured the material. At the start, the island is an Amazonian paradise, where a pair of blond-mohawk-sporting female unicyclists spin out in style and a group of frighteningly nimble female Chinese acrobats twirl and tumble in the air in a way that gives you back pains just watching.
But when the storm breaks - thanks to exciting and vivid aerial work by Suren Bozyan and Karyna Konchakivska's wind gods - the boys appear, and an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better competitive vibe enters the ring and provides a backdrop to the burgeoning love story.
There are a few dull notes, like a swan-like creature whose balletic moves seem oddly out of place (choreography is by the estimable Karole Armitage) and a pair of pirate-like clowns who wear out their welcome through several appearances, although they do reinforce the theme of reproduction in a clever second-act sequence.
But it's the Miranda/Romeo (I suppose the name Ferdinand wouldn't have as much audience recognition) sections that grip the imagination, particularly in an inventive water bowl sequence that resembles an aquatic balcony scene, and a number where Romeo demonstrates his devotion by becoming one jaw-dropping pole dancer.
The percussive, rousing score is beautifully integrated with the action, the musicians onstage for much of the time.
While other Cirque shows take bigger physical leaps, this one has a pleasing sense of pace and balance. Speaking of balance, Lara Jacobs Rigolo steals the show in a bit where she uses her hands and feet to construct and balance a Jenga-like mobile of wooden pieces that, piece by piece, comes to resemble a rib cage.
It's one of the most impressive stunts I've seen in a Cirque show. And that's saying something.