Cirque du Soleil’s LUZIA opened its Denver stay under its signature gold and white big top in the parking lot of the Pepsi Center on June 1. The company promised to bring an imaginative exploration of Mexico’s vibrant culture to Denver’s audiences through the world-renown circus show. Not only did Cirque du Soleil deliver a beautiful stage tribute to Mexico’s versatile landscape and people, but it just may have surmounted its own reputation for delivering innovative and awe-inspiring acrobatic circus shows.
Upon entry onto the grounds of LUZIA, audiences are immediately enveloped in an all-consuming atmosphere of Mexico’s cultural delights. Dancers frolic to a live mariachi band while stilt-walker parades the grounds in character as a puppeteer with a lively, mime-like puppet performer moving delicately beneath her strings. The energy is electric with anticipation from hopeful attendees.
As spectators enter the big top, they are treated to free popcorn and drinks as they mill about taking in the wide array of LUZIA souvenirs. Audiences are then seated by the most courteous staff around, to patiently await the evening’s entertainment while taking in the stage. A large circular sun-like object hangs as a backdrop to the round stage, circled in yellow marigolds. On the front of the stage, an oversized ornate key rests.
Soon, the lights dim as the sound of a plane engulfs the big top. As the plane’s engine sounds dissipate, a parachutist is seen free falling from the central apparatus, 46 feet above the stage. The parachutist lands upon the stage and takes in his surroundings. He walks towards the key, filled with curiosity, and begins to turn it in its place; so begins the parachutist’s and the audience’s journey through LUZIA and the magic that is Mexico.
The parachutist, played by Eric Fool Koller, serves as the comedic guide for the audience through the dream-like tapestry that is LUZIA. His impeccable timing and wit play well with his curiosity, which seems to mirror that of the audience’s as he becomes a traveler weaving his way through act after act with a child-like sense of wonder.
Koller’s first encounter as the traveler within LUZIA’s imaginary Mexico takes place as the sun rises upon the stage to reveal a woman dressed as a monarch butterfly with great flowing wings. Shelli Epstein plays the butterfly who is joined on stage by a great metallic horse. Epstein takes flight as she gracefully runs on the stage, whose center is delightfully revealed to be made up of two enormous treadmills. The butterfly and the horse appear to playfully bound across Mexico’s landscape in tribute to the annual monarch butterfly migration from Southern Canada to Mexico.
Leaving behind the butterfly migration, the traveler takes the audience further into LUZIA’s Mexico to discover a myriad of imaginative delights. Through act after act, both the traveler and the audience are taken on a fluid, dream-like journey through the reimagined wonders of Mexico. Every moment is filled with the most amazing of acrobatic circus feats performed both on the ground of the 360-degree rotating stage and in the air above.
Each act artfully pays homage to Mexico in a unique way, creating individual scenes which are woven together into a tapestry of non-stop movement. A flock of seven acrobatic hummingbirds fly across the rotating treadmill stage, leaping through a series of hoops no larger than 30 inches in diameter. Three porters fling an acrobat into the air where she performs intricate flips in a nod to the golden age of Mexican cinema. Rolling among agave plants, two Cyr Wheel artists, Angelica Bongiovonni and Rachel Salzman, intricately spin around the stage to be joined by trapeze artist, Enya White. As the Cyr Wheels spin and the Trapeze flies, the rain begins.
For the first time in Cirque du Soleil’s history, LUZIA incorporates the use of water into the company’s circus show. This elemental addition ramps up the awe-factor of LUZIA to a whole new level. It is one thing to see skilled acrobats leaping, tumbling and swinging on the ground and through the air, but it is an entirely different experience when coupled with doing so while under a curtain of rain. The rain not only heightens the audience’s appreciation for the performers’ skills, but LUZIA uses it to convey the atmospheric narrative that weather has on Mexico’s collective consciousness. At one point, the rain curtain is used to create two-dimensional images from water droplets and blank spaces, evoking a unique sense of wonder among the spectators.
LUZIA goes on to showcase the talents of Cirque du Soleil’s performers in more astonishing acts. A strongman lifeguard, Ugo Laffolay, gradually builds two rows of flexible canes atop his buoy where he balances and performs two-handed and one-handed feats atop the growing towers. Laura Biondo and Abou Traore attempt to outdo each other in a display of soccer ball manipulation that outdoes the most skilled soccer players. In a setting that calls to peyote-infused hallucinations, acrobats slide along a series of poles and bound from one to the next. A luchador swings high through the air in tribute to the Mexican sport of professional wrestling.
The constant movement of LUZIA is put on hold as singer, Majo Cornejo, takes the stage performing a Spanish solo. Her voice is heard throughout LUZIA backed by a live band, but her solo evokes such a flood of emotions it transcends any language barriers and carries the audience further into Mexico’s vibrant landscape.
LUZIA goes even deeper into Mexico by delving into the depths of a cenote, a naturally occurring sinkhole the Mayans believed to be gateways to the afterlife. Benjamin Courtenay represents a demigod of rain as he performs his Aerial Straps act above the water of the cenote. His strength and grace not only wins over the audience but also tames a life-sized jaguar puppet.
From the depths of the cenote, LUZIA rises into a playful number as Rudolf Janecek juggles seven silver pins at breakneck speeds while the marimba plays in the background. The audience is then treated to the wonder of contortionist Aleksei Goloborodko as he bends and folds breaking the limitations of the human body.
LUZIA’s last offering of circus feats is its dual Russian swing act. Two giant swings are placed facing one another on the turntable stage where nine performers rotate flinging 33 feet through the air.
The show concludes as the traveler happens upon a gathering of all of the characters he has encountered throughout the journey into LUZIA. They are all congenially congregated around a table in festive celebration. The key is turned on stage once more by the traveler and all motion ceases. LUZIA’s journey through Mexico has come to and end.
As is only fitting for such a marvel of a show as LUZIA, the audience applauded in an uproarious standing ovation on its opening night. Cirque du Soleil may very well have topped its own consistently outstanding reputation for delivering the world’s best circus show with LUZIA. Judging from its opening night, LUZIA is in for many more standing ovations over its Denver stay through July 9.
Check out 303 Magazine‘s exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Cirque du Soleil’s hoop diving rehearsals with our photos below.