News Column

Amaluna is artsy entertainment

June 1, 2014

By Jed Gottlieb, Boston Herald

June 01--Popcorn and champagne.

Walking into the big top set up for Cirque du Soleil's "Amaluna" -- now to July 6 at Marine Industrial Park -- the smell of circus popcorn hits you hard. Then, as your eyes adjust to the dark, you see elegant bars stocked with Brut.

The odd combo highlights the mission of Cirque: Create a world where classic American carnival spectacle and arty European sophistication happily coexist.

Not coincidentally, this blend of entertainment and art overlaps nicely with director Diane Paulus' vision of theater.

Cirque tasked Paulus -- "Amaluna's" creator and the artistic director of Harvard'sAmerican Repertory Theater -- with crafting a show dedicated to Woman. She accomplished the charge by twisting Shakespeare's "The Tempest" into a female-centric story about an island ruled by women and the compulsory love stories that develop when a group of men are shipwrecked on the isle.

I say "story" but the narrative arc is loose. High-flying acts, feats of strength and old world street magic stand in for dialogue.

If you've never seen a Cirque show, the mind-blowing, spine-tingling, wow factor of these athletes overwhelms. People climb 30-foot poles like you walk down the sidewalk. They stand on one hand for minutes while contorting their bodies like master yogis. They turn playground seesaws into launch pads for aerials the envy of any Olympic freestyle skier.

The audience audibly, collectively gasps again and again. The response involuntary, the tricks are so impossible you have to ooh and aah.

That the cast is 70 percent female -- a first for Cirque -- nicely, rightly contradicts the false notion that men have a monopoly on athletic marvels. The show's most curious and complex act involved a single woman slowly, tenderly balancing a series of long wooden rods until the pile seemed to form a magical dome over her. It took time, built at a pace antithetical to the rush of the rest of the show, but had the audience silently hypnotized.

While there's plenty of art in "Amaluna" -- lights, music, costumes and Shakespeare homage -- it leans more toward entertainment.

Last month Paulus told me, "I'm always interested in engaging an audience. Just because you're doing flips in the air, you might not be engaging the audience. I wanted people to care about the acrobatics because they care about the characters."

A pair of love stories -- one romantic, one bawdy -- help the audience connect to the spectacle. But let's be honest, when somebody uses only their neck to hold on to a spinning hoop four-stories up, you don't need story or art, the feat is enough to drop your popcorn-filled jaw.


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Source: Boston Herald (MA)

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