The best way to understand the essence of Amaluna — the newest Cirque du Soleil show to set up its big top at Sterling Lyon Parkway and Kenaston Boulevard — is to dissect the word. In many languages, "ama" means mother, while "luna" means moon, a symbol of femininity and mother-daughter relationships.
Amaluna is not just the title of the show, but also the name of the mythical all-female island where Miranda, the daughter of Queen Prospera, meets a man for the first time and falls in love.
Pulling such inspirations as Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Greek and Roman mythology and Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Amaluna is, at its core, a coming-of-age tale anchored on the bond between a mother and daughter.
Sept.14 to Oct. 20
Under the Big Top, Sterling Lyon Parkway at Kenaston Boulevard
Tickets $69-$175 at tickets.cirquedusoleil.com; family and group discounts available
The female-forward themes of the show are echoed in the casting: for the first time in Cirque history, the majority of the onstage artists are women; the band is entirely made up women as well.
"The show is very much about putting women centre stage on the world stage, because we’ve travelled all over the world with this show. It’s a show that empowers women," artistic director Chris Houston says.
"I think it’s always been important (to tell this kind of story); we’re seeing it now through a new lens, in the age of #MeToo and in an age of female empowerment in many ways. The battle has been fought all around us for equality, for balance, for recognition — and on the mythical island of Amaluna, that already exists… Without politicizing the show too much, that glorious state of balance the world is trying to create, that is being fought for all around us, that is going to happen, and Amaluna is going to be a part of that journey."
Brittany Urbain has been with Amaluna since it opened in 2012. Considering she’s spent the majority of her career as a gymnast surrounded by other female athletes, she says it only becomes evident how different Amaluna is when she visits other productions and sees that women are usually in the minority.
"We have such a strong bond here and the men also help that, they also help empower us; we work with them and have fun with them and it’s a great community," says the Edmonton performer, 32. Urbain and a crew of other female gymnasts play the role of the Amazons and do a number on uneven bars that closes out the first half of the show.
It’s an act unlike anything else in the Cirque catalogue and Urbain had a hand in crafting the final product, which she says is "more circus than gymnastics."
"Gymnastics is always one girl at a time on the apparatus; it’s very serious, pointed toes, legs together. Here, we can play with shapes, we don’t get deducted for certain things. We’ve tried two girls on the same bar or two girls on other bars — we can test what’s possible and what doesn’t work and just be more creative."
Another unique-to-Amaluna number is the Waterbowl, which features the Miranda character performing a hand-balancing routine as she dives into and jumps out of a freestanding pool centre stage.
"This is supposed to be set, if you think of it as a big lagoon in the middle of the island," Houston says. "Obviously, we can’t create that, but this is our version of a lagoon. It’s almost like a baptismal font as well; she meets the moon goddess, who was the mother of the island, on this apparatus and it’s very ceremonious."
For those who have ventured into the world of Cirque before, Houston points out a few key parts of Amaluna that make it stand apart from previous productions, including the newly designed big top itself.
"A lot of my friends that have come from other shows, what they love about stepping into this big top is that it’s immediately immersive when you step in — with all of the canopy, with the pre-show sound effects and music they have going on, you’re really in the island," Houston says.
"It’s also one of the only shows, dare I say maybe the only show, that really is based around a story... There’s lots of classical imagery and mythology that you’ll recognize, and it’s a love story and a story about mother and daughter, so that’s very easy to follow. Some of our shows can be esoteric, but this is definitely easier to follow."
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.