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Cirque du Soleil’s gorgeous ‘Luzia’ a steady stream of wonderments

Sun, rain and the magic of a circling hoop counterpointed by an aerial act is part of Cirque du Soleil's "Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico" (Photo: Matt Beard)

Just when you thought Cirque du Soleil might have explored every possible fantasy world and extreme circus sport in the known universe, along comes “Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico,” a show of such natural beauty, mythic imagination, zany comedy, super-human skill and technological innovation that you leave its Big Top, perched beside the United Center, thinking Hamlet was absolutely right when he exclaimed, “What a piece of work is a man” (although he should have added “woman” to that sentence).

‘LUZIA: A WAKING DREAM OF MEXICO’
Highly recommended
When: July 21 – Sept. 3
Where: Big Top at United Center (Lot K), on Adams near Damen
Tickets: $35 – $135
Info: www.cirquedusoleil.com/luzia

Consistently true to its title, which fuses the sound of “luz” (“light” in Spanish) and “lluvia” (“rain”), “Luzia” is infused with dazzling effects of light, color, texture and water that evoke Mexico in the most poetic ways. But aside from the show’s intensely sensual visual feast, what drives this action-packed show to its greatest heights is the way director Daniele Finzi Pasca has found the ideal pacing for its complex interplay of natural elements and innovative motion (both human and mechanical), and for highlighting the performers’ distinctive personalities.

The voyage begins with the descent of a traveler whose parachute turns out to be a tiny umbrella that is just good enough to bring Eric Fool Koller, the show’s tall, alternately bossy and bumblingly inept vaudeville-like clown (and an instant master of audience interaction) down to Earth in one piece. He finds himself in the midst of an exotic Mexican landscape animated by a golden butterfly (Shelli Epstein), and by red-feathered hummingbirds who catapult themselves through hoops while somehow simultaneously negotiating a treadmill floor and steadily rotating turntable stage.

The Adagio act from Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico.” | MATT BEARD

The show’s alluring Mexican songstress (Majo Cornejo), heats things up for a 1920s-style adagio in which several Lotharios in creamy suits hurl a tiny acrobatic dancer into the air as if she were a rag doll. Endlessly flipped and pivoted, she confidently makes a perfect, bobble-free landing atop a partner’s shoulders and proceeds to slide into a split.

For more poetry in motion there is the dual female act in which a mesmerizing Cyr wheel artist (Angelica Bongiovonni) orbits the stage floor in a giant hoop, counterpointed by a steely aerialist. A torrential rain ultimately engulfs them both, but never stops their movement. There is more watery play as sparkling beauties in 1920s-style bathing costumes gather inside a circle of Victorian theater-style waves while a leering lifeguard (the hilarious Ugo Laffolay) climbs high on Tinker Toy-like poles for an amazing handstand routine. A more contemporary act finds a young male soccer ball spinner (Abou Traoré) with Moon Walk moves joining forces with his female friend (Laura Biondi) to display some eye-popping speed, dexterity, focus and coordination. And a bedazzling juggler (Rudolf Janecek) sends increasingly large numbers of shiny silver clubs high into the air, making them move so fast they create an electrifying blur.

The hallucinogenic effect of the peyote plant seems to be at work as giant leaves become the backdrop for a group of impossibly strong, siren-like female acrobats who climb poles, and spring from one pole to another with monkey-like ease. A daredevil in a Mexican wrestling mask and cape (Krzystof Holowenko) carries off a heart-stopping act on a swing as he soars up to the rafters and at one climactic point makes 360-degree rotations at top speed. Rising from a ritualistic pool of water, a long-haired aerial strap artist (Benjamin Courtenay) performs his magic before interacting with a giant cougar reminiscent of the human-driven puppet creatures in “War Horse.” A rail thin male contortionist (Aleksei Goloborodko), who seems to be made of one elastic muscle and no bones, twists himself into positions you thought only a snake could carry off. And finally there is a teeterboard-like swing-to-swing act that is bound to make your palms sweat as acrobats somersault high in the air before landing on the edge of narrow upturned platforms.

The monumental, emblematic images of set and prop designer Eugenio Caballero (an Oscar winner for “Pan’s Labyrinth”) are at once mystical and organic, and are richly embellished by Giovanna Buzzi’s spectacularly beautiful and whimsical costumes, Martin Labrecque’s dramatic lighting, Johnny Ranger’s innovative projections and Simon Carpentier’s music which all combine to create a time-out-of mind evocation of Mexico.                                                                                 

A strap act performed over a pool of water includes the presence of a man-motored jaguar in Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia.” |MATT BEARD