Arts Theatre __Featured Slider — 21 July 2014
An acrobatic ode to women in ‘Amaluna’

By Jordan Wright (Courtesy photo)

In a few weeks, National Harbor will host Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna,” a production loosely based on William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”

Amaluna is a fusion of the words ama, which refers to “mother” in many languages, and luna, which signifies “moon” — a symbol of femininity evoking the mother-daughter relationship and the concept of a goddess and protector of the planet. It doubles as the name of the mysterious island where the story unfolds.

In this groundbreaking show that celebrates the work and voice of women, the audience is transported to a mysterious island governed by goddesses, Amazonian warriors and valkyries, a place guided by the cycles of the moon. Performed by a cast made up mostly of female artists, the story brings to life an exotic female mythology of half-human, half-animal characters expressed through original compositions, dance and extreme acrobatics.

Rachel Lancaster, who previously worked on Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo,” brings her savvy to the show as a trained dancer with a background in theater. She is excited that “Amaluna” is her first show as artistic director.

“All of our shows are so different,” Lancaster said. “In ‘Amaluna,’ we have used newer technology for the aerial events, something we didn’t have before. It is incredibly beautiful. The whole big top comes alive.

The most exciting aspect of this show is the physical and emotional power of the woman. It’s really unique and features an all-female nine-piece band. It even has the only uneven bar act in the world. It is incredibly beautiful with a different esoteric sense from other Cirque shows.”

Set in an island forest, it tells the story of Miranda’s coming of age using symbols and themes from Greek mythology. Hera, the Greek goddess of women, is expressed by a peacock feather decoration, which refers to the legend of the bird’s protective eyes on its tail, said to watch over women in all stages of their lives.

Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus (‘Pippin’ – 2013) directs the amazing cast. Her impressive career includes her position as artistic director at Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater. This year Paulus was recognized on TIME’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world and Variety named her among its “2014 Trailblazing Women in Entertainment.”

“I didn’t want to build a ‘women’s agenda’ show,” she has said. “I wanted to create a show with women at the center of it — something that had a hidden story that featured women as the heroines.”

I met with cast member Iuliia Mykhailova, a petite contortionist with muscles of steel, who plays Miranda, a role that requires her to be on stage throughout the show. Discovered at a circus college in her hometown of Kiev, the 29-year-old Ukrainian has performed in three other Cirque productions, including “Ovo,” “Kooza” and “Varekai.”

She talked about the focus required to perform her intricate and daring feats.

“We do 10 shows per week so I really have to concentrate,” Mykhailova said. “It’s easy to get distracted and slip … and I have.”

Dressed in one of her four costumes, a fitted, cropped jacket with miniscule bloomers to match, the pony-tailed brunette described how the garments are constructed to accommodate the artists.

“If a sleeve constricts the arm movements, they make openings in the shoulders to allow more freedom of motion,” she said.

Mykhailova travels with her young daughter, as do many of the artists. While on the road, children are educated in on-site classrooms where programs are multilevel and multicultural in order to accommodate the myriad nationalities and languages represented.

“Amaluna” opens under National Harbor’s blue and yellow big top on July 31. 
For tickets and information visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna.

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