Photos By Franz Mahr, Words By Emily Holland
You can’t really miss the giant blue-and-yellow-striped tent sitting in the National Harbor. It’s huge, though not quite as big as the new ferris wheel, but still a spectacular sight. What’s inside the tent – Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna – is itself nothing short of spectacular, both on stage and off. And for the members of the touring group, most of whom have been together for about two years, the two-month stop in DC is just part of the routine. They don’t need to train for hours on end; they don’t get nervous; they are in the groove.
The sense of familiarity and comfort was tangible in the training tent. A performer was stretching in one corner, another was bouncing around on the uneven bars and another spun from an elevated hoop. Everyone was both separate and together all at once. It wasn’t the high-intensity training routine that I was expecting, nor was it strict or super organized. They concentrated, but then they joked – about haircuts, about costumes and about weightlifting. It was hard not to feel a bit intrusive, surrounded by their muscle-toned bodies flipping, contorting and spinning around while I lamented the fact that I cannot even touch my toes. I wanted to be part of the group because it was clear that after all the effort put in during the show’s creation, there was no going back for the performers and the crew.
Uneven bars performers Karina Brooks and Melissa Fernandez told me the atmosphere is similar during the real performance. After performing the show for so long, nerves aren’t an issue anymore and the transition from cracking jokes backstage to one final stretch before entering the center of the stage is swift and effortless.
“A lot of people probably think that we’re sitting back here like really focused, but really we’re not. We’re back here goofing around,” said Brooks.
And they deserve to goof. These are, first-and-foremost, professionals and you can see the years of training in every arm muscle and every stretch. Even the simplest movements are mesmerizing. Amaluna‘s theater-in-the-round set-up makes all of these movements visible through the dappled lighting.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the production, according to uneven bars performers Karina Brooks and Melissa Fernandez, is the fact that it is 70% female with an all-women band. Typical Cirque du Soleil shows are the reversal. The female energy in Amaluna is built on strength, with the show centered around an island governed by goddesses. There’s a large bowl of water on stage, perfectly illuminated in purples and blues that acts as the centerpiece for one of the most hypnotizing acts – the Moon Goddess’s descent on the aerial hoop.
Everything is perfectly calculated, as it should be. With performers twisting and turning way above the audience, every detail counts. What you don’t see during the performance are the gasps for air and the beads of sweat – the signs that yes, all of this is strenuous body work. But those signs are there during the training hours and yet it all still seemed effortless. I guess that’s the true sign of a great production: even the training is its own performance.