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Stage Review

A Cirque du Soleil show that’s as interested in ‘Ahh’ as ‘Wow’

Ugo Laffolay performs during Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia.”
Ugo Laffolay performs during Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia.”Cirque du Soleil/Costumes: Giovanna Buzzi / 2016 Cirque du Soleil

At its best and at its essence, Cirque du Soleil is about beauty. And “Luzia’’ is nothing if not beautiful.

Sure, you’ll be impressed and sometimes dazzled by the agility and dexterity of Cirque’s international cast of acrobats and aerialists, by the movement of bodies through space at impossible speeds and angles that adds up to a kind of airborne dance.

But what may linger in your memory as well is the sheer aesthetic pleasure of this Mexico-themed production, which is running under a Big Top at Suffolk Downs through Aug. 12. Somewhat daringly for a big-budget entertainment in our hectic age, “Luzia’’ carves out — insists upon — a place for stillness.


Rather than strain for a constant “wow’’ factor, director Daniele Finzi Pasca, who cowrote “Luzia’’ with Julie Hamelin Finzi, shows some respect for the intelligence and attention span of the audience by punctuating all that virtuosic movement with visually arresting tableaus in which the hitherto-whirling performers take on the aspect of living sculptures or frozen figures on a colorful canvas. At other times, as if human activity is yielding to the imperatives of nature, the performers stand still while sheets of water pour down from high above onto the stage.

It’s as spellbinding in its way as the stunts the cast pulls off during the rest of the show. As usual, those stunts — performed on a rotating stage in “Luzia’’ — often exceed the seeming limits of human possibility (including a genuinely cringe-inducing performance by a contortionist). One is struck by the intricacy and pinpoint precision of what must be endlessly rehearsed routines and, above all, the consistent level of coordination, teamwork, mutual dependence, and trust required to execute their duties. (If only Congress worked this way.)

Power, grace, and athleticism were everywhere in evidence under the Big Top. Ugo Laffolay, of France, astonished the crowd by balancing on one hand atop a tower of canes and extending his body perpendicularly. Diana Ham of Mexico shimmied up and down a pole as if she were walking to the mailbox. Cylios Pytlak of France juggled a multiplicity of silver clubs at jaw-dropping speed. The very rare glitch during “Luzia,’’ as when Pytlak tried to juggle one club too many or when another performer knocked over a hoop while trying to sail through it, only underscored the difficulty of their feats. Some routines — such as the one featuring 10 performers from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus who leaped and somersaulted from fast-moving swing to fast-moving swing — created that heart-in-the-mouth combination of excitement and anxiety that keeps you on the edge of your seat.


The subtitle of “Luzia’’ is “A Waking Dream of Mexico,’’ and the show is suffused with Mexican music, costumes, and iconography. Maybe my perceptions were colored by the exceedingly grim political moment we’re living through, and it would obviously be foolish to expect cultural authenticity from a big-budget commercial entertainment like Cirque du Soleil. Still, the show’s atmospheric nods to Mexico and Mexican culture felt like more than window dressing.

A huge disc, evoking the sun, the moon, and the Aztec calendar, sits at the rear of the stage, and a red curtain evokes a genre of folk decorative art popular in Mexico. There are cacti (a cactus is part of the Mexican flag), large butterfly wings worn by a performer (evoking the annual migration of butterflies to Mexico), armadillo puppets (the armadillo is a popular animal figure in Mexico), and crocodile headdresses (the crocodile represented the earth in Aztec cosmology). Mexican singer Majo Cornejo performs often in “Luzia,’’ wearing a style of dress and hair braid similar to that of the legendary Mexican artist Frida Kalho. She is accompanied by musicians from Mexico, Colombia, Canada, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.


As it happened, my companion on Wednesday night is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. After the show, she remarked: “There were moments I thought: My mom and grandmother would like this.’’


Directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca. Cowritten by Pasca and Julie Hamelin Finzi. Presented by Cirque du Soleil. At Big Top, Suffolk Downs, East Boston, through Aug. 12. Tickets: $36-$160, 877-924-7783, www.cirquedusoleil.com/luzia

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@GlobeAucoin9