Cirque du Soleil meets Burlesque Cabaret
There’s no point in denying it – every good acrobatic display is just a wardrobe malfunction away from a striptease. The toned bodies, the flexibility, the barely-there outfits, legs spread wide in a full split … who doesn’t want to go to bed with an acrobat?
“Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil” set out in 2003 to (literally) strip away the fun-for-the-whole-family neutering of the contortionist profession. More than a decade later, “Zumanity” is still going strong on its catwalk stage in New York, New York Hotel and Casino. The show has changed very little in all that time, and why should it? An erotic acrobatic show in Sin City – has an easier sale ever been conceived?
Do not bring the kids. Heck, don’t bring the parents, unless you want to learn more about what turns on Mom than you ever wanted to. This show is rated “R” for sexual content. While it stops short of actual nudity, who needs nudity when you have two perfect bodies writhing over each other in a clawfoot bathtub?
Director Yanis Marshall has brought a few new tricks to the table, including a number called “Perfect Jam.” Marshall touts this as the first “pure dance number” in a Cirque show. True to his word, it is a pure dance number. Performed in underwear. Elsewhere, two unbelievably Adonises in thongs and high heels spar in a cage in an orbit of homoerotic hate-lust. A loving heterosexual couple makes your local acro-yoga boot camp look like preschool gymnastics. Tattoos and interracial pairings abound. Buttocks bulge with every arched back; legs swivel 180 degrees in their sockets; handstand splits are usually crotch-facing-out.
Expect some problematic moments. A scantily clad female acrobat uses the most limber table dance of all time to compete with a televised football game for her gentleman’s attention, to the chagrin of feminists everywhere. Like fetish porn, flirting with the line of political correctness adds to the danger – which, for some, adds to the appeal.
This is still a circus act at heart – the kind of circus that sexually frustrated teens would run away and join back in the days when parents set boundaries. There are even clowns, in the form of Dick and Izzy, a bumbling married couple who heckle each other and poke fun at the crowd both before and during the main show. Along with an emcee called the Mistress of Sensuality, they form a rough backbone for a spectacle that calls to mind “Cabaret” for the 30th century, a world populated by mutants and angels. A live orchestra augments the performance pieces with Cirque’s platinum-selling blend of chamber music and industrial rock.
The showstopper is still the Water Bowl act. Disc-shaped and clear like a giant contact lens, the titular set piece plays host to the transportive interplay between two female contortionists in bikinis. This must be what watching real mermaids would be like – joyful, erotic, otherworldly. They slip and slide around, past, and under each other like the sexiest koi fish ever.
“Extravaganza” closes the night with a celebration, male and female acrobats dressed and crossdressed in dazzling feathers like you see at Carnaval in Rio. Will we join in the celebration? Should we? Dare we? Like most Cirque productions, what you get out of “Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil” depends largely on what you bring to it. A spark of transgression amid sexual monotony? An intellectual-artistic exploration of “the Erotic” with a capital “E?” A mental film reel of unbelievable bodies spreading their legs? Just remember – the show is only 90 minutes. The real world is still waiting for you outside.
Verdict: Those who appreciate sexualized performance as “high art” will find that in “Zumanity” at New York, New York Hotel and Casino, Cirque du Soleil has delivered on its adult themes to the exacting standards we expect from them. Your average horn dog who doesn’t care about “high art” will like it too.