“Amaluna” is Cirque du Soleil’s recent circus, now showing under the Big Tent in Redmond’s Maynoor Park. It seeks to “honour femininity, renewal, rebirth and balance” and, to their credit, 70% of the performers are women. In particular, all the music is performed by women. But it’s not all flowers and Sarah McLaughlin, if that’s what you’re thinking. In fact, the first half made me genuinely believe this would be a great work. There was genuinely strong portrayals of feminine forces, aggressive sexual impulses, playfulness and confidence. If only it stayed that way.
Opening set of Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna”
The main problem I had with the show was the simple fact that it needed to be spelled out. It was Cirque du Soleil doing “The Tempest” only – wait! wait! they reversed the genders of key characters! The performances included new interpretations of what you expect from the troupe – strength displays, acrobatics, acts that focused on speed or dexterity, and a bold new interpretation of “balance” – but this time, done by women!
And so on.
It would be more elegant to simply do all those things without the exclamation points. Female participation alone doesn’t make this show a tribute to “femininity” – not unless they’re saying that all their other shows (in which the proportion of men to women are inverted) are to be understood to be a tribute to masculinity. It also opens them up to criticism by idiots. Quite honestly, it reduces what should have been a complex exploration of what “feminine” means into something any Women’s Studies undergrad could tear to pieces in under a minute.
However, to view it simply from the context of equality is to diminish what they were trying to do in the first place. It’s no “honor” to show that women are capable of performing on equal terms with men. There would have to be an unstated assumption that they could not, and one well entrenched before such a contradiction would have any power. No, to honor femininity, you have to actually celebrate femininity in its own right.
So must we always reduce “the feminine” into reproduction? It’s tiresome to be forever told that the part of you that matters is your ability to produce new people. Perhaps I’m wrong; perhaps most women embrace that as their only singularity worth celebrating, but I admit that sometimes I feel like a little attention could be paid to other characteristics.
You n me and baby makes three
That said, the visual symbolism and choreography with which this pat and predictable theme was expressed were stunning. Miranda, the daughter of the goddess Prospera, swats away the advances of her shipwrecked suitor until he accepts the clear glass globe, given to her by the moon, which looked in their handling like water, reminiscent of the womb. Once they exchange and share it, of course, their love is sealed. It was nice, not too subtle, not too obnoxious. Of course, it does reduce romance into a negotiated settlement over child care, but then again most of the data says that’s ultimately what romance is, anyway. The clowns in the show acted out the more comical attributes of mating and made childbirth a funny-ha-ha, and I’m sure there were many parents in the audience that related to them best of all.
By the midpoint of the second act, I saw all the traps of the undeserving princess. It went without question that the most handsome and brave of the sailors would fall in love with Miranda at first sight without the mucky muck of getting to know her qualities. Shortly thereafter, Cali, the male influence in her life, would be flooded with jealousy and attempt to separate them out of love for her. Everyone’s in love with this girl, though there be birds galore, all over. Everyone’s hopelessly devoted to this girl alone. Why?
And, of course, both White and Black Swan make their appearances.
I feel like I’m being overly critical. The show is great, and I am a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil, period. If anything, it’s because they tend to have interesting ideas, even to the extent of making me think about old ideas simply by presenting them in a new light, that I found this to be so ultimately disappointing. If it hadn’t been presented to me as some kind of feminist statement, then I’d be nothing but poetic about its virtues. So let’s talk about a couple things they did right.
Lara Jacobs is capable of assembling, with only balance and self-control, an enormous skeleton made from a dozen progressively larger palm leaf ribs that resemble bones. The act takes ten full minutes, during which the audience is expected to suffer through the tension and listen to her breathe. There are moments when her position is so perilous that Lara can only use her breath to blow an errant piece into the correct position. She does this whole thing, you see, while slowly spinning. It’s the highlight of the show, and it cleverly represents a feminine ideal — patience and self-control in the service of nurturing the creative process — in a way that tossing around a clear globe does not. In the end, with some regret, she removes the smallest piece from the end of the now-standing form. It falls apart in a perfectly sequenced cascade too beautiful to bear.
When Miranda reaches puberty, she has an acrobatic dance with the moon in a ring that swoops between the ceiling and a large glass pool of water below. After the moon grants her a womb, Miranda performs a display of strength. Traditionally a male or male/female act, the strength performance is always a jaw dropper. It was genuinely wonderful to see pure strength and absolute physical control performed by an unmistakably female form, celebrating of all the parts of that form. It was positive, sexy, and as elegant as any I’ve seen.
Contortion reigned this show. Even the safest dances were made interesting by the extreme forms they took. From a stunt and choreography standpoint, the show maximized the physical capabilities of its female majority. So, you see, they did deliver.