I know what you are thinking and trust me, I am right there with you. A production of Cirque de Soleil directed by Diane Paulus? This already happened and it was called Pippin when it opened last spring.
But no, Amaluna, playing in a tent adjacent to Citi Field (that place where some team called “The Mets” play) is an entirely different experience. Not just that it is ostensibly under the Cirque de Soleil umbrella, but because it is a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Oh, and it’s stunning-looking. But that is nothing new coming from Ms. Diane and I'll never shy away from pointing that out. Her vision - plus Scott Pask’s sets and Meredith Caron’s costumes - bring alive the mystical island of Amaluna and all those who inhabit it. Caron’s costuming, in particular, will knock you dead with their FIERCE while helping to define each character(s). You can’t look away while these performers are doing stunts as if their lives in danger (which in some cases, I mean that literally), but their costumes are so eye-catching, I wanted a close-up of each one. My favorites? The Amazons and their midriff-exposing top and pants, rendered in a tribal, black-and-red color scheme. They could cut a bitch.
But the best part of Amaluna is how Paulus incorporated “Girl Power” undertones and turned a Shakespeare piece long-derided for its lack of female characters, let alone strong female characters, into…SURPRISE! A female-empowering show. Julie Taymor attempted this idea in her film adaptation of The Tempest that came out a few years ago, where Helen Mirren played Prospera, the gender-swapped version of Prospero.
In The Tempest, Prospero uses his sorcery as means of altering Miranda’s universe to his own liking. The result? He’s manipulative and over-bearing, amongst other things. Changing Prospero to Prospera and having her essentially do the same thing is…well…she’s still controlling, but in a more feminine/badass way. That idea is what Amaluna does to great effect, Prospera and her earth-goddess costuming being the most prominent example. Of course, having a troupe consisting of a female-majority doing BAMF-esque dances and acrobats and performances will never not be awesome, so there’s that.
Just an aside, it’s worth making a big deal out of a female-centric piece for the time being because…well, we still live in a (theatre) world where women are in the minority and undervalued. Not just in terms of creative staffing and the types of roles and characters women play, but as an audience. Highlighted this season by the industry pedaling Rocky to the forefront with its dude appeal, there is this undercurrent of misogyny that (1) a sports icon could never be appealing to women in the slightest and (2) men need to be in audiences in order for them to be considered “successful,” even though women comprise over two-thirds the average theatre audience.
At the least, Amaluna is a feminist production inspiring women to go out and beat some ass…or, given the physiques of the performers, hit the gym the next day. And between this and Pippin, trust Ms. Diane to make females everywhere proud. Rock on, girlfriend!
The only elements of the show I could have done without were Jeeves and Deeda. The former is a pirate whom lands on Amaluna and the latter is Miranda’s nurse…together, they fall in love and have children. Their comic-relief schtick never took off and they look like throw-aways compared to all of the fantastic aerial tricks, the pole-dancing, the gymnastics, the dancing, the juggling, the KICK-ASS band...pretty much everything else. I’m sure they served a more practical purpose in Amaluna then it initially lets on (i.e a breather for the other performers or time stalling so the crew can ready the next sequence) - but talk about halting the show to a slog. Thankfully, their scenes consume only so much of the run time and you will be too preoccupied at this provocative translation of The Tempest - not to mention, marveling over the costumes and the performance art - to see Amaluna as anything less then what it is; a dazzling, fun time with a wink and a fist-pump to all the ladies in the audience.
Ticket Provided By the Production
Photo Credit: Cirque de Soleil "Amaluna"