Cirque du Soleil keeps circling back to D.C. region


The “Water Bowl” scene in Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna. Costume by Meredith Caron. (Laurence Labat)
August 22, 2014

Cirque du Soleil marks more than a quarter-century of visiting Washington, D.C., with its latest production, “Amaluna,” at National Harbor through Sept. 21.

It’s the 12th production in or near the nation’s capital for the Montreal-based touring phenomenon. Although the DMV isn’t quite Las Vegas, where a handful of Cirque productions are in residence year-round, the region has had its share of shows under the company’s distinctive blue-and-yellow tents since 1988. Back this summer for a nearly two-month run, Cirque has pounded its tent poles for shows such as “Nouvelle Experience,” “Alegria,” “Quidam,” “Dralion,” “Ovo” and “Totem” in a handful of locations in Virginia, Maryland and the District.

No matter where its big top lands, Cirque endeavors to create a magical space in its extended runs. Here’s a look at some of the places the company has set up shop hereabouts over the past 26 years.

1988

Contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova mixes handstand contortion with water bowl dancing for Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna show. Here's a behind-the-scenes, slow-motion look at a few of her hardest moves. (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

Cirque Reinvente — Definition of title: “We Reinvent the Circus.” Area location: The Mall, from Sept. 9-Oct. 9, the first of two shows on the Mall. Created in 1987, it was the first Cirque show to tour outside Canada, playing across North America before jumping to England and France. Its logo featured an impresario with a painted face ripping through a poster of the elephant acts and Barnum & Bailey portraits of the past. The show began with a chair balancing act and included hand balancing, trick cycling, an acrobatic dance trapeze and the Korean plank. It then traveled to Japan in a visit that sparked a permanent relationship there.

1993

Saltimbanco — Definition of title: A 16th-century Italian word for “skilled street performers and acrobats.” Area location: Tysons II in McLean, Va., from Oct. 14 to Nov. 7. The first of what would be four stops at Tysons. The fifth presentation from Cirque du Soleil had a theme of celebrating life with acts that included multicolored worms, acrobats, Chinese poles, hand balancers, juggling, trapeze and a finale that culminated in a bungee act. It was the first Cirque show to travel to South America.

2004

Varekai — Definition of title: “Wherever,” in the Romany language of gypsies, the universal wanderers. Area location: RFK Stadium grounds, from Sept. 16 to Oct. 24. The show, based on a sequel of the story of Icarus, looked at what happens after he flies too close to the sun. Here he lands in a magical forest. The show includes juggling, aerial straps, hoops and acrobats, as well as Icarian Games, in which one performer lies on his back and twirls another performer on his feet. It was the show being performed during the reality series “Cirque du Soleil: Fire Within” on Bravo.

“Juggling” scene in Cirque Du Soleil’s Corteo. Costume by Dominique Lemieux. Photo by Richard Termine. (Richard Termine)

2006

Corteo — Definition of title: An Italian word meaning procession. Area location: Grounds of the old D.C. Convention Center at 9th and H Streets NW, from Oct. 26 to Nov. 26. A contemporary circus show about a clown who watches his own funeral. Its acts include a bed-jumping trampoline act, a Cyr wheel, tightrope, acrobats, teeterboard, juggling and aerial straps. It was set in the round, seating the audience on two sides of the stage. Inspirations included the painter Adolphe Willette and the Chartres Cathedral in France. A film adaptation of the show won a Creative Arts Emmy for outstanding editing on a special.

2008

Kooza — Definition of title: Inspired by the Sanskrit word “kola,” which means chest or treasure, it was devised to reflect the idea of the production as a circus in a box. Area location: At National Harbor on the shores of the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, Md., for the first time, from Oct. 30 to Dec. 14, with a show that began six months after the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center opened. The story of an innocent clown who finds a place in the world, it was considered a “back to basics” show that ironed down the high tech and involved as much clowning as acrobatics.

2014

Amaluna — Definition of title: A fusion of the words “ama,” which means mother in many languages, and “luna,” which means moon and is a symbol of femininity. Area location: Back at National Harbor for the fourth time, through Sept. 21. The new production is set on an island of goddesses, who are guided by cycles of the moon, with themes of coming of age, rebirth, trust, renewal and, ultimately, love. There’s an all-female band for the first time in Cirque history, and 70 percent of the cast is female. Influences for director and writer Diane Paulus range from classical Greek and Norse origins as well as Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Acts include uneven bars, Chinese pole and teeterboard.

Cirque du Soleil: Amaluna National Harbor, Prince George’s County, Md., until Sept. 21. Call 800-450-1480 or visit cirquedusoleil.com.

Catlin is a freelance writer.

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