Cirque du Soleil's “Luzia,” now at Tysons II. (Matt Beard)
Theater critic

If you were unnerved by last month’s news that Cirque du Soleil performer Yann Arnaud died after falling during an aerial act, the last thing you want to see is this opening image in the show “Luzia”: a clown suspended high over the stage as his character parachutes into a make-believe Mexico.

That controlled but adrenaline-filled plummeting is quickly followed by one of the most beautiful, tranquil scenes I’ve seen in a Cirque show. A muscular woman in a butterfly costume sprints proudly on a massive treadmill, followed by a magnificent, giant, galloping horse operated by three puppeteers.

Cirque du Soleil shows can be creepy and alarmingly risky, but “Luzia” — now at Tysons II — is blessedly earthbound and largely soothing, even though it, too, has been marked by tragedy — technician Olivier Rochette was killed by a telescoping lift in 2016. “Luzia” is poised on the gentler side of the balancing act that circuses have always managed as they try to thrill (not chill) the audience with derring-do, from high wires and trapezes to the old-fashioned images of human cannon balls and lion tamers sticking heads into jungle cats’ mouths.

Even so, each time a “Luzia” performer rises into the air or splashes through water (it’s a wet show), you may find yourself double-checking for harnesses and safety wires. Krzystof Holowenko stands in a giant swing that almost reaches the very top of the tent by the time he sails 360 degrees, and you’re glad to see he’s locked in with ski-type boots. Ugo Laffolay does a terrific balancing act on slender wobbly canes that he stacks higher and higher; as he fits one cane into another, you wonder how they don’t snap. You also wish that the spotters below him kept a closer eye.

Less anxiety-inducing acts include former pro soccer players Abou Traoré and Laura Biondo in a fabulous soccer ball dance, and the gorgeous duet of Rosa Tyyska and Nora Zoller spinning in Cyr wheels (human-size hoops), with Enya White executing pretty airborne maneuvers above them. As usual with Cirque, live new-age music underscores it all, here given a Latin edge with flamenco guitar, a heroic solo trumpet and some fancy maraca work. The fantasia costumes, too, are up to snuff. Tumblers in bird outfits wing through hoops; a singer’s white dress mechanically blooms with red flowers.


Whirling through water in a Cyr wheel during Cirque du Soleil's “Luzia.” (Matt Beard)

I forgive the whistleblowing clown for singling me out because I already had been charmed by the show’s deep colors and mellow rhythms. Cirque du Soleil has always been a mood as much as anything, bathing traditional acts in layers of upscale escapist gloss. You can’t pasteurize danger out of any circus; the audience here shrieked during the climactic routine as the performers somersaulted between giant gondola-style swings. The athleticism and timing have to be honed to world-class levels, and they are.

It is good there’s no complacency in the audience, that we roar with delight and relief each time someone lands after a flight. It’s a relief, too, that watching “Luzia” doesn’t feel like morbid monitoring. It’s not Cirque du Soleil’s most spectacular chapter (though it does dazzling things with curtains of rain), but its warm tone is a balm.

Luzia, by Cirque du Soleil. Through June 17 at Tysons II. $39-$285. 877-924-7783 or cirquedusoleil.com.