Image © Matt Beard
Review by Elizabeth Mistry
It was thanks to British author Katie Hickman that I first fell in love with a Mexican circus.
Hickman’s ‘A Trip to the Light Fantastic’ is a beautifully observed homage to the skill (blood, sweat and, frequently, tears) of the artistes who formed Circo Bell’s, a traditional touring circus named in honour of Ricardo (originally Richard) Bell, an English clown in Mexico who was once a favourite of Porfirio Diaz and said by a newspaper at the time to be “more popular than pulque.”
Part travelogue, part memoir of the year she spent travelling with Circo Bell’s, Hickman’s book has been reissued several times – in its latest iteration it is called ‘Travels With A Mexican Circus.’ It remains a favourite on my Mexico shelf.
Now Cirque du Soleil, the modern day Canadian circus company known for mounting spectacular performances at spectacular prices has brought Luzia – its own interpretation of a Mexican circus – to London and it is thrilling to watch.
One hopes not (but suspects) as much sweat and tears went into the making of this show, which features some superb athletes (as well as a contortionist so twisty-turny that I had to turn away worrying about the long-term health implications of performing such a feat night after night.
This is entertainment on a huge scale – and without wild animals – although that is not to say the new show is animal-free – and it is slick and audacious.
With Luzia (this latest offering is subtitled, ‘A Waking Dream of Mexico,’) the audience is transported – along with a bumbling central character known as the pilot – to an imaginary Mexico populated by golden butterflies, emerald green hummingbirds, armadillos and some very giggly cacti with strategically placed prickles.
This Mexico references many recognisable locations; a giant circular disc, reminiscent of the so-called ‘Aztec Calender’ currently on display in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, a butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan, a hidden waterhole where a lone jaguar might come to drink in the Oaxacan selva, a beach that could be Acapulco or Quintana Roo and an impressively rendered cenote surrounded by lianas that reminded me of more than a few such pools in the Yucatan.
Cirque de Soleil’s usual home, the Royal Albert Hall, is perfectly cast as a big top for this whirlwind tour through this confection of the country’s top tourist destinations starting with a gentle acoustic guitar introduction played by one of the company’s Mexican cast members.
Early in the show a Monarch butterfly’s wings billow dramatically and its athleticism sets the bar high for the gymnastic feats that follow. The tricks, rolls, jumps and aerial feats – along with Mexican singer Majo Cornejo’s powerful voice (and a couple of surprises involving papel picado) – that follow are what really make this most modern of circuses worth the trip to the light fantastic.
Cirque Du Soleil’s Luzia: A waking dream of Mexico is at The Royal Albert Hall in London until March 1st.Tickets from £28.00. For more information : cirquedusoleil.com