There is a moment early on in Cirque Du Soleil’s Luzia when water pours down from the big top ceiling, droplets shimmering like falling diamonds. A trapeze artist and another acrobat spinning across the stage floor in a large metal ring twirl into and out of this waterfall. It’s a dreamlike aerial dance that is, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the most astounding visual performance I have ever seen.
It is merely one of many "gasp" moments in Luzia, which plays through July 21, under a striking big top on Market Street in Hartford. Subtitled “a waking dream of Mexico,” it is directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, whose visual flair you may remember from the closing ceremonies at the Turin and Sochi Winter Olympics. Luzia, a combination of the Spanish words for “light” and “rain,” focuses on the misadventures of a clown portrayed by Eric Koller. He falls from the sky at the start of the show and finds himself at the center of various acrobatic acts inspired by different aspects of Mexican history and culture. But as with any “dream,” plot isn’t important. I didn’t know until after the show that Connecticut native Stephen Brine, who grew up outside of Hartford, was portraying an Aztec rain god during a gravity-defying aerial strap performance. That didn’t stop me from being in awe as I watched him twirling and spinning in the air above the audience while periodically dipping into a pool on the stage and sprinkling the front rows with water whipped from his long hair.
Speaking of local connections, I saw Luzia on Saturday just after attending the memorial marking the 75th anniversary of the Hartford circus fire at the site of the tragedy on Barbour Street two miles away. It was a strange but fitting juxtaposition. Three-quarters of a century after one of the worst tragedies in Hartford history, when actual big tops seem more and more like a relic of the past, Luzia is a reminder of the magic of a circus at its best.