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by Rachael Goldberg | | April 14, 2018

From the moment you enter the circus grounds at Tyson's Corner, you find yourself immersed in the world of Cirque du Soleil's "Luzia," Cirque's latest show to grace the DC-metro area. The arena is set around a large white tent, which houses the stage, refreshment stands, and gift shops. Outside is space for visitors to mingle before the show, either in the VIP section (which boasts music, food, and drinks) or at photo spots with a few of the performers. Once inside, I felt a stir of nostalgia for the best parts of the circus as a child - the smell of popcorn, the music and people milling around, the sense of excitement - but it also felt far more sophisticated. The traditional clowns (ruined since I'd read Stephen King) and smell of animals have been replaced by the colorful tapestry of Luzia's Mexican roots and Latin music.

The premise of Luzia is a dreamy walk through Mexico, heavily relying on light and water to transport the audience through this journey. And it's hard not to feel you're in for a treat when you take in the opening set piece: a large, metal spheroid with light playing off it to create a colorful, textured piece hangs behind a field of flowers. Like most Cirque shows, the opening is somewhat gradual, with performers wandering on the stage and among the audience; it's typical for the audience to take a while to catch on, but it took much longer than I've seen at other performances, perhaps because this opening was so muted at first. Two birds wheeled out two tiny robots who watered the plants, and a man played guitar. However, once they warmed up and were able to keep the audience's attention, the scene was delightful; the little robots were adorable, and stole the show when they started to join in the musical performance. And, from there, with the audience secured, we were off.

Luzia takes Cirque's big crowd-pleasing performances - hoop diving, Cyr Wheel, trapeze, hand-balancing, pole work, contortion, aerial straps, juggling, swings - and sets them to a journey through Mexico that makes the performances feel fresh and fun, even if you're a regular attendee of Cirque shows. The birds' take on hoop diving feels like OK Go helped choreograph, and the performers turn the rare times a hoop is knocked into a chance to engage the audience. The hoops are followed by an Adagio performance that can best be described as a tango fever dream - it was beautiful, complex, and filled with weird creatures (note: if you're like me and don't like bugs or snakes, the first few sections of Act I are a bit uncomfortable, but worth sticking out). The combination of the trapeze and Cyr Wheel performances also introduces the water as an artful element, and the continuous usage throughout the show only improves as it progresses - the water is used for both comedic and artistic elements, and it's equally delightful in both capacities. Even drying the stage is incorporated in an entertaining way, though the cactus characters can be distracting since one of the cacti has an arm in a pretty inappropriate spot.

Although you may want to stay in the theater during the 20-minute break, make sure you head out to the lobby: intermission carries the themes off the stage, featuring music, more photo opportunities, and free churros.

While Act I is a bit more heavily invested in the story - our clown/guide is lost in Mexico after a skydiving mishap and is seeking water - Act II boasts some of the bigger performance elements, opening with an exciting pole work performance and including a Tarzan-style aerial strap performance before the big Russian Swing finale. Just before the final piece, the show features a contortionist that leads to my only warning: this segment is not for the faint of heart. The contortionist, Aleksei Goloborodko, may very well be, as advertised, the most flexible human in the world, but there were definitely moments when the women in the row ahead of me needed to look away, and I found myself cringing a few times; Goloborodko may, perhaps, be too good.

Although most of the show takes Cirque elements with a Mexican twist, there is one notable performance that takes a Mexican element and gives it a Cirque twist: two of the performers lead a segment built around the popularity of fútbol (soccer) that will have even non-sports fans excited. This scene stands out among a show filled with solid acts for its ability to draw a little more deeply on Mexican culture in a way that shows how wonderfully incorporated it is into the show. The show also had some beautiful little touches throughout, including the singer's blooming dress, subtle and overt nods at Mexican artistic influences, and a horse and cheetah that were reminiscent of "War Horse" and "The Lion King." By the end of the performance, my companion (a Cirque novice) and I (a frequent Cirque patron) were equally in awe.

Luzia is playing at the Tyson's II arena through June 17th - make the trek, and treat yourself to a dreamy, colorful journey.

Photo credit : Matt Beard / Costumes: Giovanna Buzzi

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