Photos & Article by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media
I want to see it again, and again. That’s how I felt immediately upon leaving the opening night performance of Luzia, A Waking Dream of Mexico, Cirque du Soleil’s beautiful new production inspired by the richness of Mexican culture. The name Luzia fuses the sound of luz (light in Spanish) and lluvia (rain), two elements at the core of the show’s creation.
Having seen several other Cirque du Soleil’s productions in Las Vegas, New York and Denver I expected just another high quality circus production that Cirque du Soleil has become renown for. Luzia is Cirque du Soleil’s 38th production since 1984, and its 17th show presented under the Big Top. There are so many Cirque du Soleil productions currently performing around the world that although each is unique they tend to blur after awhile. Usually seeing a particular production once is enough.
But that was not the case with Luzia, Although there are a few of the usual circus type acts with jugglers, and dancing rope performers, Luzia was special with unique acts and a production quality I had never experienced before in a Mexican circus show. The Cirque du Soleil’s promotion states, “Discover LUZIA, where a waking dream transports you to an imaginary Mexico. Experience a wondrous world that inspires you to explore your senses, enveloped in light and nurtured by rain.”
Walking up to the big top, the Grand Chapiteau, as is referred to, outside the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver was unique in itself.
The white and yellow Big Tops are designed based on the solar system to reflect the importance of space and especially the moon in the Mexican culture which inspired the show. The main tent is white with yellow curves to represent the paths of the planets around the moon and the artistic tent is yellow to represent the sun.
Outside the Grand Chapiteau visitors are welcomed by a mariachi on 20 foot stilts, another on an equally tall bike and yet another female mariachi on stilts pulling the strings of a real life Mexican puppet with the mariachi music playing throughout.
There were beautiful Latinas adorned in Mexican dresses handing out roses to all the women as they arrived. The whole atmosphere was refreshing. It made me feel proud of my Mexican culture and anxious to see what else awaited me inside.
Passing through the VIP area a woman adorned in a gown of full champagne glasses welcomed guests who also dined on incredibly delicious Mexican cuisine that was cooked up right on the spot.
But even outside the VIP area circus goers where offered abundant complimentary glasses of red and white wine with tables full of colorful and delicious sombrero cookies at intermission. Representatives of the Mexican, Guatemalan, El Salvadorian consulates in Denver were present. The consulates were instrumental in providing visas for many of the performers. Luzia has a cast of 44 artists and 16 creators from 15 different countries.
The show opens with a Mexican guitar player surrounded by 5,000 flowers,
cempasúchil (the Mexican marigold) it is a visual reference to the Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, an important holiday in Mexico. Associated traditions include honoring the deceased with sugar skulls, marigolds and the favorite foods of the departed.
After a couple of more opening acts the rain came. A real down pour, sheets of rain cascaded from the tents ceiling drenching the performers below. The rain also came in sheets of fascinating patterns of water. There was so much water I wondered if it was for real or just a technical effect. It disappeared as quickly as it fell leaving the floor instantly dry for the next act. Turns out the stage floor has 94,657 holes through which the water drains into a 3,500-litre basin hidden underneath. Integrating the element of water inside the big top represented a huge technical challenge. All electrical and mechanical systems have to be waterproof. In addition, the water must be recycled, disinfected and kept at 28 Celsius for the comfort of the artists.
It seems as though the stage is always in motion with its two revolving rings and central platter, or moving on the two giant treadmills which weigh 3,630 kg apiece and are powered independently by 28 automobile-type batteries. The stage is constantly transforming from one scene to the next. A tropical rain drenched forest one moment to something completely different the next.
There are many elements in the show that reference Mexican life from its Indian ancestry to present day existence. The swimmers costumes each contain 300 mirrors which represent the avant-garde architectural wonders that exist in modern day Mexico City. PAPEL PICADO: A Mexican decorative craft that involves cutting intricate designs in paper or silk. You’ll see this all over the big top, outside and in. Used for both secular and religious occasions,
Papel Picado usually depicts birds, floral designs and skeletons. HUMMINGBIRDS: In the Aztec psyche, the destination of a person’s soul depends on how they die. Those killed in battle got to travel for four years alongside the sun as it made its way across the heavens, after which time they would return as hummingbirds.
In Luzia, the hoop divers become a flock of hummingbirds taking flight before the audience’s eyes. BAHLAM, THE JAGUAR: Jaguar gods are prominent in Mayan and pre-Hispanic mythology. In Mesoamerica, the Olmec developed a half-man, half-jaguar motif seen in stylized sculptures and figurines.
LUCHA LIBRE: Mexican wrestling is characterized by colorful masks, rapid sequences of holds and high-flying maneuvers. In modern lucha libre, masks and capes are designed to evoke the images of animals, gods, ancient heroes – whose identity the luchador takes on during a performance. The artisan creators also developed 6 crocodile heads, 1 iguana shawl, 1 cockroach, 1 grasshopper, 1 armadillo, 1 snake, 5 swordfish heads and 3 tuna heads for the show.
The live music was amazing. The songs, Mostly in Spanish and some French, represent 10 of the main themes in the show. The rhythms are intended to achieve a more dance-orientated, pop-music style. Each song was written for each specific act. Inspired by the cultural richness of Mexico, Cirque du Soleil’s production LUZIA features original music written by Canadian composer Simon Carpentier. The music was written for a live acoustic setting and then passed through the filter of the electro-pop of Nortec Collective’s Bostich + Fussible, infused with brassy Mexican and Latin American sounds. Some titles include: Asi Es La Vida (Hoop Diving) Tiembla La Tierra (Adagio) Flores En El Desierto (Cyr Wheel & Trapeze, Pambolero (Football Freestyle) Los Mosquitos (Pole Dance) Alebrijes (Contortion) Tlaloc (Aerial Straps)
Cierra Los Ojos (Water Curtain) Fiesta Finale (Curtain Call).
It was refreshing and wonderful to see a production of this caliber where I, other Latinos and the audience in general could appreciate the richness and beauty of Mexican culture, art & history. The only downside about Luzia is that the show had to end. I wanted it to go on and on. I was so captivated, entertained, enchanted that it took me to place I didn’t want to leave. A dream I did not want to awaken from. I didn’t think of anything outside that tent I was enthralled in the moment and I didn’t want that moment to end. I am so looking forward to seeing Luzia again and again.
Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia, A Waking Dream of Mexico”, plays at the Grand Chapiteau outside the Pepsi Center through July 9th.
Same day tickets are 30% off. Matinees and weeknights are also less expensive. Groups of 3 or more get 20% off. Seats that are near the stage are too close. So much going on you may miss the bigger picture. The production favors the center two thirds of the audience. But really most any seat is good in this intimate venue.
Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media