A Dream of a Circus

Cirque du Soleil’s latest production promises “a waking dream of Mexico,” and LUZIA fulfills that vision, combining the company’s signature mix of acrobatics and artistry with stunning new advances.

LUZIA, which celebrated its U.S. premiere on Nov. 17 in San Francisco, draws inspiration from the bold colors, rich traditions and diverse music of Mexico in a show that uses light (“luz” in Spanish) and rain (“lluvia”) to spectacular effect.

The theme is first evident in the white-and-gold Big Top that has popped up outside AT&T Park – with art depicting the sun, moon and stars – replacing the traditional blue-and-yellow striped tents.

Inside, LUZIA creates a dreamlike atmosphere that ranges from the lyrical, with graceful aerialists and dancers spinning in giant hoops, to the absurd, with a scuba-diving clown fighting undersea cacti and a speed juggler backed by a crocodile-headed marimba band. Mexican influences range from the Day of the Dead to “lucha libre” (Mexican wrestling) to soccer, showcased in an amazing Football Dance in which two competing dancers manipulate a ball with their bodies.

The use of water for the first time in a Cirque Big Top show adds dramatic effect with tropical rainstorms and an aerialist who spins on straps and dips into a jungle “cenote” that emerges on stage, while a larger-than-life jaguar puppet looms nearby. The water practically becomes a character itself in a comedic cat-and-mouse game with a thirsty clown.

As first-time Cirque du Soleil viewers, it was hard for my 10-year-old daughter and I to remember we were sitting with more than 2,500 other audience members in a tent in parking lot, even more mindboggling when you consider the behind-the-scenes magic it takes to move and recycle nearly 1,600 gallons of water for every show.

Joining the talented international cast of LUZIA are four Bay Area natives making their Cirque debut. Dominic Cruz of Benicia, Maya Kesselman of San Bruno and San Francisco siblings Devin and Marta Henderson all got their start as young children in the San Francisco Youth Circus. After years of studying and performing circus arts, they formed their own troupe but were recruited for LUZIA before training for their first project.

In one of the first acts, the group, joined by three others, reinvents the breathtaking art of hoop diving by soaring through hoops less than 30 inches in diameter on giant rotating treadmills, while dressed as richly hued hummingbirds. Later, their strength and artistry are on full display in a Chinese Pole routine.

Other memorable moments include a heart-stopping Russian swing act in which acrobats are hurled more than 30 feet in the air while the stage rotates and a cringe-inducing contortionist who folds his body into positions that seem impossible.

My daughter was often so spellbound that she forgot that she was up way past her bedtime on a school night, but with a running time of two hours and 10 minutes (including a 25-minute intermission), parents with young children may want to consider a matinee over an 8 p.m. show.

LUZIA runs through Jan. 29 at the corner of Third Street and Terry A. Francois Boulevard, in AT&T Park’s Lot A. It will move to the Taylor Street Bridge in San Jose from Feb. 9-March 19.

Tickets start at $49; families of three to eight people can receive 20 percent off regular prices with family packs. Parking is $25. The Big Top is located across from the Mission Rock Street station on Muni’s T line. For more information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/luzia.

Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.

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