Circus for the spinning multi-tasker

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

If you're looking for some theatrical spectacle for the whole family over the holidays, my pick is Cirque Du Soleil's latest Luzia.

Cirque's shows, once a sure bet, got a little bit dodgy for a few years.  

You might remember the ill-fated and confused Hollywood show, Iris, that was supposed to play for a decade but closed after only two and a half years.  Or the handful of other big top spectacles that felt more like a last minute sandwich of circus acts inside a thread-thin plot.

It became hard to remember what was so striking about Cirque Du Soleil’s shows in the first place: that they decided circus could be more than a variety show.  That if you took the time, and a great concept, you could weave these acts into a whole that told a story at the same time it dazzled you with acrobats, strong men, and contortionists.  You went on a journey and entered a world with them - often with deeper allegories about big ideas: the outsider, the environment, precious water.

But narrative is tough, especially when you still need to work the acrobats into the mix.  There are only so many wandering nomad tales -  backed by hip, vocally driven, world music that you can churn out every couple of years.  That recipe turned a bit stale.

What's interesting about the last two Cirque Du Soleil shows at Dodger Stadium has been the shift in formula from narrative towards spectacle and technology.  Rather than trying to tell a grand, mysterious story, the last two Cirque shows have chosen visually evocative worlds and allowed designers to riff on that big idea.

For Luzia that idea is Mexico - not really a story of Mexico but the spectacle of an idea of Mexico.  So we get a stage full of marigolds, a luchador mask, a riff on a hunky cliff diver, and a mariachi band - and frankly that's enough.

As usual they're playing on their circular thrust stage but as if twirling aerialists weren't enough to capture our attention, they've fashioned something of a three-ring circus in a single ring.  The stage is a giant spinning turntable of concentric circles that are in almost constant motion.  So not only is a performer doing some remarkable circus trick - be it tumbling or flipping or contorting - they are doing it while the stage spins beneath them.

It's dizzying but it's stunning.

Remember Cirque's campaign for water conservation?  Well, they seem to have forgotten and one of the remarkable visual gestures is a gigantic center stage waterfall that erupts from time to time.  So imagine you've got an aerialist up above and woman spinning in a giant hula-hoop below, now imagine that the stage is spinning.  Got that?  Okay, now imagine it's happening during a torrential, well-lit rainstorm.

I would have loved to be in the creative meeting for that one "what the hell, let's make it rain?"

Of course, that's not even enough.  That rainstorm eventually becomes something of a dot-matrix printer of water, cascading down patterns of flowers and fish.  It's totally over the top but it's gorgeous.

This is circus for the age of multi-tasking ... and it works.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.