Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Minus the "Wow" Factor from Cirque du Soleil: Obtuse, Humorless Amaluna Continues the Company's Ominous Decline

Circus Review:
Cirque du Soleil - Amaluna
San Francisco, November 17
Tickets: $70 to $270

All photos by Yannick Dery (accent / Over E), from the San Francisco Chronicle 

Midway through the second half of Cirque du Soleil’s latest effort (stress effort), I felt as if I were sitting around, half bored, at a party already over. Sure, the laser lights still flashed on and on. Hip young revelers flexed sexy limbs in glitter gear. Some flew back and forth on swings, having fun showing off with little to show. A band of hard grunge rockers kept the room noisily (if not obnoxiously) alive.  And a couple of quibbling fools seeming to believe they were funny — they weren’t — would not shut up. 

A few of the honored still hung around, long enough to offer a little artistic relief: An ambitious and winning group of diablo and risley performers from the Middle Kingdom.  A woman who works hula hoops as a gifted juggler, sans the belly dance part.  Party of dudes spinning terrifically off springboards in novel maneuvers that truly captivate.  And a  mean machine of a man who juggles balls with cool dexterity, if only he could let a little emotion slip through.

Why did he leave me feeling so detached?  Hour later, it struck me: He, like too much of the blasting rock music (such rock never works very well on Broadway, either), came off as totally joyless -- which, in my book, borders on the inhuman.  But then again, that may have been the role assigned him.  Keep in mind, there is a story underway here, something about a woman undergoing a "passage to womanhood" that is said, per program notes, to pay tribute to Shakespeare's The Tempest "along with Mozart's The Magic Flute."  And that director Diane Pulus references the venue in which she is directing to be  "theater." As rendered, our two young star-crossed lovers compose something inanely superficial.

The high points in circus on display here tend to be diminished inside a theatrically overwrought tent. Altogether, everything else between and around which they have to perform gets oppressively in the way, that is — unless you prefer special effects over the accomplished artist.  Unless you swoon to the magical lights of Cirque, to its exotic costumes, its moody abstract interludes, and its obsessively silly clowning (executed to death here by two annoying characters) that can stop the show, but not in the flattering sense of the term.  Of all Cirque's touring shows that I have seen, and I've seen them all, to my eyes and ears this was by far the weakest.

It's an operation that wants to be too many things all at once: (1) visual feast — (2) body movement ballet theatre in no particular hurry  — (3) rock concert, if only they could have signed Mick — and (4) , yes, a little circus. Stress little.  Am I exaggerating a certain lack of the wow factor in Amaluna's path?  The program magazine I have in hand illustrates at least  two acts no longer on the bill, nor could I find any names in the insert containing mug shots of the artists linking any of them to the two missing acts -- low wire and unicycles.  One is left to ponder what may have happened between Montreal and San Francisco.  .

My most memorable moment is not a flattering one. While watching a woman working a stack of bamboo poles by getting them into the air and balanced in a floating formation, the execution of which took forever and ever, I felt strapped to a school desk being lectured to for an hour by a science teacher on the movement of molecules through space.  Never have I felt so imprisoned by boredom at the circus -- excuse me, Ms. Pulus, at the theater.

Watching the disjointed Amaluna, it is not too difficult to understand why this company has suffered a series of monumental flops in recent years, and we are talking high profile shows slated for 10-year runs from New York to Los Angles, China to Vegas.  

Cirque du Soleil made a name for  itself  “reinventing” circus, and that it did brilliantly, thirty years ago come the New Year.  They may still be able to turn profits from a wide spectrum of takers -- newcomers to the tent dazzled by the visuals; snobs who hate “circus;” the "new circus" aficionados anxious to believe they are seeing a much higher art form; circus fans willing to endure narrative  nonsense in order to enjoy gold class artists -- but those acts aren't nearly as evident these days under the high-tech "Grand Chapiteau."  

My last great Cirque experience was the gloriousl OVO, four years ago. What a joy it was, and what great circus.

Cirque King Guy Laliberte may need to give up poker for a season or too and revisit his roots. His next great challenge might be to de-invent his company back by a decade or so.  From everything I have read and seen, my best hunch is that Cirque's recent string of fiascoes may all share one thing in common:

Over produced
Under talented

Overall rating (out of four stops tops):  2 stars

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