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Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia, an outstanding new Mexico-inspired spectacle, runs to Oct. 16 in Toronto.

Laurence Labat

3.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Luzia
Genre
Theatrespectacle
Directed by
Brigitte Poupart
Company
Cirque du Soleil
Venue
Grand Chapiteau at Port Lands
City
Toronto

On a scale of one to 10, you know zero about Mexico. Forget about what Donald Trump would lead you to believe, you haven't a clue. And I'm not sure Cirque du Soleil's outstanding new Mexico-inspired spectacle Luzia will help. But that might be okay.

Luzia opens with a goofy fellow – you can call him a clown; he would not object; this is a circus after all – free falling from 30,000 feet toward terra firma. He's trying to read a map. His parachute doesn't work. A tiny umbrella seems to save him.

He lands excellently and bulls eye in a circular bed of marigolds (freshly watered by a tiny tin robot). Spotting a giant wind-up-toy key standing upright, he gives it a turn. Let the show begin.

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What unfolds is a surreal show of acrobatics, Latin music, vivid imagery and a giant bug (ay cucaracha!). There is no plot. It's more a trip, the kind that begins with a tequila sunrise. Or with a woman running on a long treadmill and spreading her giant, billowing monarch-butterfly wings. As one does.

Scenes flow from one to the next. In an art-deco dance hall – something out of an old movie – three porters fling, lift and swing a woman around as if she were a jump rope. Then a trapeze artist does her act, which ends in a curtain of rain. (Flashdance, eat your heart out.)

The sheet of water is just one of Luzia's folkloric references to Mexico. Rain-calling rituals are a natural in a parched land where it seems to be high noon most of the day.

Does Mexico have a rich tradition of football? I have no idea, but Abou Traoré is a break-dancing, soccer-balling, moon-walking maestro – Maradona free-styling under the influence of fluorescent cocaine.

The audience loved the high-velocity juggling of Rudolph Janacek, and what was the deal with the Russian contortionist Alexey Goloborodko? Liquid-lean and ligament-less, the guy was more flexible than the latest Toronto mayor and was freaking everybody out.

The biggest applause, though, went to the masked lucha libre wrestler on the giant swing. He went closer and closer to the complete 360 degrees, before tilting all the way over finally. It was a simple tension-and-release exercise that did its trick.

You can take the Cirque du Soleil out of the big top, but why would you? The Montreal-based circus company has created shows for different venues – 2015's Toruk was built for arenas; 2009's vaudevillian Banana Shpeel toured theatres – but the grand chapiteau is a superior place for old-time oohs and ahhs. Here's your popcorn, step right this way, Roberto's your uncle.

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The vivid spectacle ended in a fiesta, with all the characters and the dropped-in clown gathered around a long dinner table. The party was on, but then everybody froze except for the guest. Maybe he had died from his sky fall, or perhaps it was all just a dream.

If you had a peso for every movie that involved protagonists making a run for the Mexican border, you could easily afford to buy a front-row ticket to Luzia. The thing with all those films – Thelma & Louise on down – is that nobody ever actually makes it to Mexico. And so the country remains unexplained and misunderstood to those north of its borders. Cirque du Soleil celebrates but does not exploit that weird mojo – viva Luzia.

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