Circus review: Luzia, Cirque du Soleil, Flemington Racecourse

The latest Cirque du Soleil show to hit Australia is as captivating a spectacle as ever.
man hangs from a rope against a blue backdrop over a watering hole on a stage. a tiger puppet is behind him and rain pours all around. Luzia Cirque du Soleil

If ever a circus required little or no introduction, it’s the Canadian giant of the genre. Cirque du Soleil is verily the Barnum and Bailey of its time and Luzia is the 38th show from a company that began in Montreal in 1984. To say it’s not been smooth sailing over the last few decades is an understatement, with massive growth alternating with serious financial and critical challenges – including those imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter, in particular, caused huge disruptions for the company with the suspension of many of its touring shows, and some of them, including Totem, Volta and Axel, apparently permanently closed.

Fortunately, Luzia has not suffered the same fate. Launched in 2016, the show’s name is drawn from luz (light in Spanish) and lluvia (rain) – two of the most pivotal elements of the production.

Riffing off all things make-believe Mexico, Luzia is a smorgasbord of visual treats, jaw-dropping acrobatics and perfectly pitched musical accompaniment.

If you’ve seen a Cirque du Soleil show before, you’ll have some idea of what to expect. And you’ll likely also be prepared to see those expectations exceeded. And they are. Where Luzia is a cut above many a circus show is in its holistic approach. The soundscape, staging and overall design are every bit as integral to the success of the production as the actual acts included.

And then there’s the execution… of course, a show that has been in production and touring (on and off) for nearly a decade should be fairly seamless. But Luzia is so slick as to almost translate to sleight of hand. The show begins with the circular stage area almost completely covered with yellow flowers, save for pathways that are utilised by the odd performer in a bird costume or travelling troubadour-like musician.

At some point, all of the flowers disappear. Just completely. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but clearly I was looking in the wrong direction when it happened, transfixed by something happening elsewhere, deflecting the audience’s attention.

And those happenings are cleverly designed to ebb and flow in both intensity and the format of the skill set required. So a meandering band of brass players gives way to a troupe of acrobats leaping through circles of varying sizes and degrees of difficulty. Then a quartet uses one of their number as a human juggling skittle before life size puppets of bugs roam the stage.

Luzia Cirque du Soleil. A woman swirls around a stage in a large hoop.
‘Luzia’ by Cirque du Soleil. Image: Anne Colliard.

Two young women display breathtaking dexterity with large hoops while a third accompanies them with some serious trapeze action. And then the production’s major draw card makes its first appearance – rain, pouring from above and drenching the performers, but somehow, magically, being swiftly swept away before more acrobatic balancing feats can take to the stage.

Among the flora and fauna puppets (add a horse and tiger to those bugs, plus some cacti!) and a couple of curiously placed football jugglers, tricks with bicycles and stunning stunts on the big swings, there is also some strong pole work. If there is one thing that niggles, however, it’s this – in 2024 why is it that all the male pole dancers are fully clothed while the females appear in little more than their undies…?

Luzia Cirque du Soleil, A contortionist lies on a bridge in a terrifying shape.
Clearly not a bone in his body… ‘Luzia’ by Cirque du Soleil. Image: Anne Colliard.

One of the most unforgettable performances of the show is the contortionist who clearly possesses not a single bone in his body. And this is contrasted with the simple but equally mesmerising sight of a singer in a beautiful white dress covered in red flowers that actually bloom as we gaze at them.

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And then the pièce de résistance – more rain. Buckets and buckets and buckets of it. But rain that falls with absolute precision and then splashes to the ground with patterns in the actual drops. It may be technical skill rather than traditional circus skill prowess, but it’s utterly captivating all the same.

Luzia by Cirque du Soleil runs at Flemington Showgrounds in Melbourne until 26 May 2024, before touring to Adelaide (9 June to 7 July), Perth (25 July to 25 August), Brisbane (25 September to 3 November) and Sydney (24 November to 27 January 2025).

Madeleine Swain is ArtsHub’s managing editor. Originally from England where she trained as an actor, she has over 25 years’ experience as a writer, editor and film reviewer in print, television, radio and online. She is also currently Vice Chair of JOY Media.