Saturday, September 8, 2012


JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
8 SEPT 2012
R: 4.5/5

Pictured: Iuliia Mykhailova, Edouard Doye

TORONTO-Since New Testament times, we've known that in attempting to service two masters, even the most willing servant ends up serving neither really well. But one suspects that even Matthew himself would be impressed with how close director Diane Paulus comes when she sets herself in dual service to playwright William Shakespeare, and to Guy Laliberté, founder and driving force of the show business juggernaut that is Cirque du Soleil in a new show titled AMALŬNA.

Backed by a team of Cirque collaborators, Paulus does her level best to create a show in the finest Cirque traditions, while taking a fresh new approach to the Bard, and his timeless work The Tempest (with liberal reference to Shakespeare's other works as well). AMALŬNA opened Thursday on Cirque's Toronto home on Cherry Street.

It is set on a magical island, ruled over by the sorceress Prospera (Julie Andrea McInnes) and an army of fetching Amazons, and as the show begins, she is preparing to initiate her young daughter, Miranda (Iuliia Mykhailova) into the rites of womanhood, ending a childhood spent playing with a lizard-like creature called Cali, masterfully created by juggler Viktor Kee.

Before that can happen, however, Miranda's heart is stolen by a young sailor (Edouard Doye) who washes up on the island's shores, his good looks and impressive six-pack earning the enmity of Cali and seemingly derailing Prospera's plans for her suddenly besotted daughter. This is, as anyone who has ever seen a full-on production of The Tempest will tell you, a pretty complex tale — one that could be easily derailed by an enthusiastic troupe of dancers, gymnasts,
unicyclists and aerialists.

But for at least the first half of this almost three-hour show, Paulus and her extensive and accomplished team hold their audience in the very palms of their hands, creating an enchanted world where actions may not speak louder than words, but are clearly audible nonetheless. Filled to the very brim with magic, it is a near-perfect blend of awe and aw-shucks charm that serves to keep an audience utterly immersed in the world which AMALŬNA inhabits and the story it tells.

Act II starts brilliantly as well, and while Paulus continues to do a fine job of incorporating the circus artistry and athletics into her masterful re-imagining of Shakespeare's tale, she slowly, almost imperceptibly, loses her heretofore finely honed sense of balance, allowing her production to tilt too far into Laliberté's world of Cirque while her audience is still immersed in the magical hybrid world she has brought to life.

Things are no less awe-inspiring, mind you, but that magical thread that is theatre is broken nonetheless — despite the best efforts of a dedicated cast, a a top-notch all-female band and a design team that never seems to lose its determination to blow our collective minds. The shift is, in fact so subtle that one might not even realize what has happened until, in the final scene, Paulus returns to the simple magic of theatre to remind us just how daring this effort has been and how very close she came to serving both Shakespeare and Cirque. AMALŬNA may not be perfect, but it certainly shouldn't be missed.

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