Above, 1987 -- below, today
San Francisco, November 15, 2019
Cirque du Soleil
$285 tops / $495 backstage package
It has been five years since I last looked into a Cirque tent. I had missed the last two or three editions, so I forced myself into the urban freak show of San Francesco, soldiering valiantly under a soft gender-neutral rain to reach the promised land over asphalt. The blue and white top is a knockout.
In its simpler beginnings, the shunning genius of Cirque du Soleil was to intensify the dramatic impact of a basic circus act — not a totally new concept, think Russia — through original scoring, exotic costume design, every precious gesture meticulously choreographed, entrance to exit, and framed in a touching little story. When I first saw the show in Los Angeles, 1987, I rose to my feet to join the audience in a five minute standing ovation (I have all five minutes recorded) I sent off a rave review to Variety in New York, for whom I then free lanced. No response. I sent another rave. Both ignored.
Thirty two seasons later, I am seated and witnessing, with high hopes, a degree of that same genius at work in Amaluna. Early in the program, a pair of nimble gals doing inventive things on unicycles, their routine effectively scored by heavy metal music, excite my ultimate validation — tremendous! Another T moment strikes in the figure of a woman hanging upside down from the end of a rope and spinning at the speed of light. Tremendous, you too!
If only there had been more of the T factor in this lean lineup. The fairly predictable circus action here is, to be fair, strong, cleanly and powerfully athletic (house acts, I suppose), executing solid B grade skills, though some of it a bit repetitive. These muscular mortals twist and twirl, thrust and bust off a single springboard, over and under horizontal bamboo beams (maybe another T), and from soaring straps. If only there had been less of all the in-between stuffings — narrative nonsense, pretentious body movement formations, blitzing costumes, lasers, flash and flesh, riven with loud silly clowning.
Speaking of which, worst of all, sucking up too much air out of this lopsided balloon, are two Brazilian buffoons who seem never to go away – a giggly woman, enormous and enormously obnoxious, and her new suitor in progress. These overworking irritants enact a series of getting- to- know-you/getting-to-grope you dates. Most of it happens out in the audience.
Another flimsy romantic item are two young lovers in angelic white, at intervals gazing into each others eyes, sometimes from opposite sides of he stage. Why not at least a ballad?
Remember when Cirque du Soleil was quiet and mystical, lost in its own realm? At Amaluna, the eye candy is on steroids, and it all seems designed to knock iAddicts with short attention spans into brainless submission. It felt as if the whole thing had been engineered as a form of old-circus aversion therapy. As if a sensory overload machine was shouting in my ear: “We’re going to jack hammer you into conversion, no matter what! You’re gonna sit there and take it all and be cured of your sick old circus attachments! And you’re gonna stay in our tent for the rest of you life! Yes, okay, I believe, now, may I leave?
The last truly great Cirque show I saw was Ovo in 2011 -– I gave it 3-1/2 stars out of 4. Would love to see it again. The last Cirque I saw before this one was Kurious (3 stars). although its first half left me vaguely detached, its second half sent me floating out of the tent.
1987 to 2019
One day in universities where Cirque du Soleil studies are offered, students may be assigned to read the program notes for Amaluna, and write a thesis explaining it all. And then, finally, what it all meant may be exposed. And the ghost of P. T. Barnum may be laughing.
Rating: 2 stars
Okay, here’s a personal shocker. That word Amaluna, did it not ring a bell?. After drafting this review, while looking through some old CDS programs, yes Amaluna was first presented in San Francisco in 2013 , and I reviewed it here on this blog and gave it the same rating!
Good for me.
END RINGERS: Show clocks in at a tad over two hours, of which 25 minutes are consumed in intermission ... Bloodthirsty: Long ago, they gave free water at dispensing machines. Now you are offered an empty designer bottle for $6, which you can fill yourself by placing it under a thin stream in a dispensing machine. ... $495 for a backstage package? In hilarious contrast to which, they’re now pitching $10 seat upgrades as you enter the tent. Tent was around three-quarters full. This audience gave them a rousing ovation ... I do believe there are people who enjoy the random mixture of elements, circus to eye candy bringing them back.