Cirque du Soleil represents the pinnacle of stunning circus spectacle – anyone who’s seen a show or a video can tell you that. What it doesn’t often represent, though, is ordinary humanity – fun, unpredictability, joy. Which is why its newest show “Amaluna,” just opened at Redmond’s Marymoor Park, is such a treat. Not only is this Shakespeare-inspired production the most cohesive, narrative and plot-driven Cirque show for a while, it’s one of the most innovative, with new apparatus and theatrical elements that allow both phenomenal physical skills and some simple human joys we can all relate to.
That’s not to say everything’s perfect in the “Amaluna” world. Based loosely on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” “Amaluna” gives the original a feminist spin (thanks to guest director Diane Paulus), which definitely honors female acrobats but gets a little tiresome in characterization. The sorcerer Prospero becomes Prospera (lead singer Julie McInnes), who makes grand gestures but has a one-dimensional mystique and rather grating alto (though she does have a fantastic electric blue cello). Surrounding her and protecting her daughter Miranda is every female mythical character known to mankind: goddesses, spirits, Amazons, Valkyries, pre-Raphaelite heroines, even a gal bespelled as a peacock. Heading up the shipwrecked sailors and bent on winning Miranda’s love is – wait for it – Romeo (Shakespeare fans, feel free to gag here.) In the middle of all this estrogenetic tumult are two clowns who, like all Cirque du Soleil clowns, achieve complete unfunniness in an irritating, repetitive way while severely embarrassing the audience.
But these are minor quibbles. Despite the plethora of myths “Amaluna” actually holds together both plot and theme, unlike many Cirque shows, and that’s thanks to Paulus, who’s not afraid to insert purely theatrical elements into the circus splendor.
And it’s also thanks to a couple of excellent actors in the cast, who raise the typical Cirque awe-and-wonder to actual human interaction. Ikhertsetseg Bayarsaikhan, as Miranda, is one: She brings a sweet naivety that’s perfect for this coming-of-age tale, and isn’t afraid to show she’s having fun. That she also does a breathtaking contortionist act is icing on the cake – or rather on the cauldron, because her act is made even more dramatic by a huge bowl of water, just big enough for scarily shallow dives, that occupies the stage like a powerful symbol. Her duet with Romeo is a delight of teasing and water splashing (just like real people do!) mixed with the astonishing skill of flawless arm balancing while dripping wet.
Viktor Kee is the other actor: As Cali (the original Caliban, now a half-reptile who protects Miranda) he’s not just a superb juggler, he’s a sly comic who’s funny whether he’s showing off his balls (ahem) or tossing popcorn on the audience from a high ledge.
The other thing that makes “Amaluna” quite new for Cirque is some inventive apparatus. A triangle of tightwires allow a quartet of skilled acrobats to create a nostalgic tango, rather than a watch-this-trick routine. A set of uneven bars, disguised as Balinese bamboo, lets the troop of pony-tailed Amazons shriek and swing in a well-executed gymnastics routine. A half-hoop with a chair echoes the aerial hoop act (impressively also including singing) and allows Prospera to float over her island playing her electric blue cello. A teeterboard is combined with a slanted platform that lets the show’s guys (yes, they’re there, and thank goodness) be adorable parkour show-offs.
The rest of the acrobatics is equally stunning: a poi/tumbling team, some soaring aerial strap ensembles (Valkyries never looked so authentic!) and a grinning, spinning unicycle duo (the Ariels, get it?) in gold hoop skirts.
And of course there’s the music, this time an all-female rock band that channels David Bowie even better than the original.
Cirque du Soleil is always worth the ticket price – it’s the international gold standard in visual splendor. But “Amaluna” gives something more: a sexy, strong, feminine show that operates on a human as well as mythical level.
“Amaluna” runs 8 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday through Mar. 24. Tickets from $43.50/$40/$33 (parking $15 cash). Marymoor Park, 6046 West Lake Sammamish Pkwy NE, Redmond. 800-450-1480, cirquedusoleil.amaluna