Oh yes, it’s ladies’ night/And the feeling’s right/Oh yes, it’s ladies’ night/Oh, what a night.
It may sound strange to frame the latest incarnation of Cirque du Soleil with lyrics to a classic Kool & The Gang funk song, but this is not your father’s circus.
More than 70 percent of the cast of “Amaluna,” in town through Jan. 25 under the big top outside Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, are women. Its band is all-female. And even its name is overtly feminine, as “Amaluna” translates to “moon mother” in several languages.
“This particular show really showcases women,” said tour publicist Rowenna Dunn, who has been with Cirque for eight years. “Traditionally, we’ve had a 70 to 80 percent cast of men, and that was never a conscious effort – that was just kind of the way the candidate pool had fallen. But for this show, it was really a conscious effort to cast the net wide and seek out this strong female talent to showcase the strength, but also the beauty and grace of women.”
Written and directed by Diane Paulus, who won the Best Director Tony Award in 2013 for her revival of “Pippin,” the show draws from classical influences including Greek and Norse mythology, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” It tells the tale of the mysterious island of Amaluna, whose queen, Prospera, directs her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony. It’s supposed to be a celebration, a sacred rite, but not everything turns out as planned.
“Of course, chaos ensues,” says Dunn. “Prospera whips up a storm, a group of shipwrecked boys comes across the island, and then Miranda, our young heroine, falls in love and goes through all its trials and tribulations. But it results in a happy ending, which is nice to say. It is a love story, but predominantly a love story between a mother and a daughter and between a family and a community.”
Although “Amaluna” features women as heroines, the show avoids taking a feminist stance or heavy-handed political statement. But it’s nonetheless inspirational, especially with younger girls and teens.
“Roles that may have been traditionally seen as boys-only roles, they have that recognition like, “Oh my goodness – I could do something like this,” says Dunn. “We have a drummer in our band, and she’s amazing. She often says that people come up to her and say, “Wow, I always thought it was kind of a boy thing to be a drummer.” But here’s this girl – she’s gorgeous, she’s obviously very strong but she’s oozing femininity and grace and beauty on the stage, and it’s that balance and combination that they’re able to really strike upon.”
The band, which performs a cutting-edge mix of rock and techno, is another point of pride for “Amaluna.”
“Traditionally with Cirque shows, we like to be very whimsical and ethereal, and circus-y,” says Dunn. “But this band is very different, and it seems to be a little Prince-inspired – you’ll see a couple of our lead guitarists with long coats on. And the fun thing is, they get to interact with the audience as well, so instead of being behind in a band pit, they get to come out on the stage and weave through the audience. Even though we have live music in all of our shows, people don’t often realize it, because there’s so much going on and happening onstage.”
Amid all the acrobatic flash and frenzy is a group of ex-NCAA gymnasts who are excited for the chance to showcase their talent beyond the college level. One such performer is Summer Hubbard, 26, a graduate of LSU who joined the Cirque family after an open audition in Las Vegas. She’s part of the Amazons of Amaluna, who perform on the uneven bars.
“We are basically dressed in all red with crazy dread[locked] hair, and are the protectors of the island, these really fierce, strong women,” she says. “But we have several vulnerable moments, and you get to see a neat evolution from us being extremely strong to maybe a bit mysterious and vulnerable.”
Hubbard says that trading in her light college leotards for the three-pound Amazon costumes took some getting used to, although she finds then beautiful and elegant.
“It’s heavy and it’s tight, so it squeezes in and it’s suffocating,” she says. “But with movement it kind of relaxes and gives in. We also have a corset that kind of tucks everything in, and a really long horse-tail in the back, which creates that extra quirky, Cirque du Soleil part of the costume. And then we have these amazing headpieces – some of the girls have extremely long dreads, and now we have to try and swing with a headpiece that is maybe a pound– it’s definitely a challenge.”