Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]irque du Soleil’s latest production “Amaluna” marks a significant milestone in the live entertainment company’s 35-year history.

For the very first time since the troupe began thrilling audiences around the world with its reinvented circus arts, it debuts a show comprised mostly of women. The production also features an all-female band.

“It’s definitely a celebration of women and of femininity,” says one of the show’s stars, Amanda Zidow, who believes all industries—including the arts—are seeing an increase in women utilizing their talents. “There is nothing else like this show in Cirque du Soleil.”

Arriving in Phoenix for an engagement of 38 performances March 15 through April 14 under the Big Top near State Farm Stadium in Glendale, “Amaluna” is Cirque du Soleil’s thirty-third production and features unicyclists, aerial acts, jugglers, a fast-paced theatrical version of the uneven bars gymnastics routine and a wide array of other acrobatics that seem too fantastic to be real.

“Amaluna’s” title is derived from symbols of femininity that evoke themes of a mother-daughter relationship and a goddess protecting a planet that are significant to the story on the stage. In many languages, ama refers to mother while luna refers to moon.

Diane Paulus wrote and directs “Amaluna,” whose concept was drawn from a series of classical sources, including tales from Greek and Norse mythology; Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute”; and Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest.”

“I didn’t want to build a ‘women’s agenda’ show,” notes Paulus, who won a Tony Award in 2013 for her work on the Broadway musical “Pippin” and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People the following year. “I wanted to create a show with women at the center of it—something that had a hidden story that featured women as the heroines.”

Zidow plays one of those heroines: a queen named Prospera who directs her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony in a rite that honors femininity, renewal, rebirth and balance. Zidow sings and plays the cello in the show, for which she is at the center during most of the action.

“The most amazing thing that Cirque de Soleil does is take people out of reality for a couple of hours,” Zidow says. “The moment that you walk into the tent, you feel like you’re in a different world. You’re leaving everything behind. Cirque du Soleil basically takes you away from everything for two hours and stimulates your mind, your soul and your heart.”

“Amaluna” is set on a mysterious island governed by goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. In the wake of a storm, several men shipwreck on the island—one of whom begins to court Prospera’s daughter. The couple’s new love is put to the test as they face numerous demanding trials and daunting setbacks before they can achieve mutual trust, faith and harmony.

In speaking with audience members and reading reviews of the show, Zidow believes one of the things that sets “Amaluna” apart from other Cirque to Soleil productions is its music, which has a rock edge to it.

Zidow’s favorite part of the production from her point of view on stage is the storm that is the catalyst of the story. In addition to being integral to the plot, the act is a feast for the eyes as artists fly out over the audience on straps, suspended from a rotating set element high above them. The demonstration of flight in four dimensions calls for precision timing as well as a remarkable amount of physical strength.

“We rehearse every single day,” Zidow says. “As with every show, it’s a work in progress. We’re always striving to make it better. Whether it’s just a tiny moment in the show or an entire act, we’re always striving to make it fresh and different.”

Of course, there are plenty of other demonstrations of tremendous talent in “Amaluna.” That talent is a constant source of inspiration for Zidow, who had been working as a musician for video games and animated productions in Los Angeles prior to joining Cirque du Soleil.

“Being in Cirque du Soleil has shown me the amount of strength that I possess as an artist,” she explains. “Being surrounded by such talented people has been an amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else. It really tests your strengths and your talents. These really are the best artists in the world.”

Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna”
March 15–April 14 | State Farm Stadium | 1 Cardinals Dr., Glendale | $55+ | http://cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna