Cirque du Soleil’s new show Luzia is about to descend upon Chicago from July 21 until September 3 at United Center with its colorful mix of fantasy and circus set in an imaginary Mexico full of rainforests and exotic animals. Chicago, a town known for its proud Mexican population, will have a chance to experience this family-friendly show (full of music, color and water) and to explore the sounds and sights of Mexican culture as envisioned by creator and original director Daniele Finzi Pasca. Will Chicagoans find this taste and vision of Mexico to their liking? Mark Schaub, Luzia’s current director, and performers Laura Biondo and Abou Traore think they will be enthralled. I met with them to discuss what we have to look forward to at the show:
Tell us what the audience should expect to see in Luzia? What is the premise of the show?
Mark: In Luzia, we have based the show around the art and culture of Mexico. While it’s not a travelogue or documentary about Mexico– it’s just influenced and steeped in the sounds and colors and images of Mexican art and culture. We don’t adhere to a real strict storyline in Luzia. It’s more of immersing yourself in a visual and aural and exciting experience. There is a main character, we follow him throughout the show. We are discovering the world of Luzia with this main character. I think he is kind of a gateway for the audience to that world.
Why do you think the show creator Daniele Finzi Pasca and Cirque du Soleil decided to do a show about Mexico?
Mark: We decided to do a show about Mexico because we have an ongoing relationship with Mexico. We have JOYÀ there, which is a permanent show in Cancun. We’ve also been working on developing a theme park with another partner in Mexico. Daniele Finzi Pasca lived in Mexico for many years because he was married to a Mexican woman. He felt like it was a sort of undiscovered or underappreciated culture–or cultures–because there are many cultures down there. He wanted to explore that and Cirque was open to the idea at that time. They put together a group of creators that either were from Mexico, such as the set designer, or had an affinity for that part of the world, and they developed it with that in mind.
Has Luzia been to Mexico yet? Have you received any feedback from Mexican audiences about it?
Mark: I’ve had all kinds of feedback from Mexican audience members, and from people who have visited Mexico and they said, “You know, without having ‘Mariachi bands and sombreros’ you really captured what we felt like when they were down there.” It’s not meant to be a travelogue or even teach Mexican culture or art to people. It’s really taking that as a starting point to create a show. Luzia is really using that as an inspiration rather than as an educational platform. It’s just what we found inspiration in and hope that we did it justice when we put it on stage.
How many people are in Luzia?
Mark: We have 44 artists in the show and that includes musicians, singers, characters, acrobats– all the performers. That is not a particularly large show for Cirque in terms of numbers. Then we have another 60 people with us on the tour making everything happen.
Who is the audience for the show? Will children enjoy it as much as grandparents?
Mark: Yes, they will! We have had a lot of kids in the audience and they particularly like the main character. He is funny and very human. He experiences things in a very big way, you could say. The kids really relate to that but also to the music and the excitement and the acrobats. They also relate to an act like Laura and Abou’s, where they are kicking a soccer ball around– and doing amazing tricks that they make look so easy. Yet any kid who has kicked a soccer ball around realizes that what they do is not easy. There are a lot of ways for people to appreciate the show.
What other Cirque du Soleil shows have you directed?
Mark: I worked on the Michael Jackson Immortal Tour and on Dralion. I’ve been on Corteo since the very beginning in 2005 then I went back in 2015 for the end of the big top time of Corteo.
We’ve seen so many changes in the circus industry lately, with several big closures in the USA. Is the current atmosphere at Cirque du Soleil positive for the future of circus?
Mark: Yes, I think so. We take no joy in seeing those other circuses go down. That is the tradition that we come out of. We are part of the circus landscape and they’re a part of the circus landscape. When that landscape is reduced, we are all reduced. I think live entertainment is also at risk at this time. The temptation to stay at home and watch things on a screen in much greater than to go out and see a live performance. While we are aware of what the environment is, at the moment I feel we are going through a kind of creative renaissance. We are creating some new shows, some styles of shows that we’ve never done before. We are trying to reach some new audiences. Since we have some new ownership of the company for the last couple of years I think, there has been a new drive and a new energy at Cirque du Soleil to try new things.
It’s a fairly optimistic time too, though we know that it’s difficult. We know what it’s like to have many big shows out there touring the world or in Las Vegas or in many different places. That is why we are trying many different things. We have a show on a cruise ship that is just starting. We have a theme park that we’re developing in Mexico, and we’re developing a permanent show in China and trying to explore more touring into China as well. We still are going strong and creating new shows and employing a lot of people and making a lot of people happy. I love this show–Luzia is really one of the nicest ones I’ve worked on. To hear the audience’s response it makes me feel like “Yeah, we know what we are doing here. We can create good shows that can reach a whole lot of people all over the world.”
Can the performers tell me their names, where they are from and how they got into freestyle?
Abou: My name is Abou Traore. I come from Paris, France. Before I played on a soccer team and I had an injury– then I changed to football (soccer) freestyle and now I practice only football free style. I have been in the show since the beginning in Montreal. It is my first Cirque du Soleil show.
Laura: My name is Laura Biondo. I’m from Venezuela. I played professional in Italy and also the US. I have a similar story, I got injured and started watching videos and discovered the world of freestyle and got involved in it. I started training a lot, got involved into performances, TV shows, competitions, and from that life took me to be here with Cirque.
I didn’t know freestyle was a professional sport. I thought it was mainly a street sport.
Laura: Freestyle is both a sport and an art. It came from the streets. You actually learn in the streets. Most people just go out and train in a parking lot or in the middle of the street or an alley. All you need is a ball. At the same time though, it’s also a sport with a competitive side. There are constant competitions all year long. The quite unique thing about freestyle is, even when there is a competition, it is a real community and a family. So you feel that connection regardless that there is a competitive side to it.
Our act is something that everyone can relate to because we’ve all played with a ball in our life. So it’s a little bit easier to relate because not everybody has had their hands on a trapeze or straps or jumped from one swing to another swing. But we’ve all played with a soccer ball.
Abou: For me, when I first came on stage and the people saw me with the ball they didn’t know what I would do. They have never seen a soccer ball in a circus show before, so the first time they start to talk, then I start with the ball and the people start their reaction and clap.
It seems like sports integrates really well into circus.
Mark: Sports have always been a part of Cirque du Soleil. 40 percent of our artists come from a mostly gymnastics background, but also from different sports. We always like to integrate these types of performers because they have trained a lot, they know their bodies really well. So it’s always been a part of Cirque but now it’s going to other disciplines than gymnastics.
Luzia will be under the big top at United Center July 21-September 3 with ticket prices starting at $35.