What separates "Amaluna," Cirque du Soleil's latest show to play Denver, from its predecessors is the story line that weaves through the show, with ritual and romance forming the warp, colored by the exquisite aerial and balancing acts of the weft.

"Amaluna" is a word conjuring both "mother" and "moon," and the cast is predominantly female, including the phenomenal musicians on drums, guitar, saxophone, bass, violoncello and percussion.

Lara Jacobs of Cirque du Soleil performs an exquisite balancing act as part of "Amaluna."
Lara Jacobs of Cirque du Soleil performs an exquisite balancing act as part of "Amaluna." (The Denver Post | Yannick Déry)

The show begins with a floating scarf, establishing a female dynamic and creating an atmosphere that invokes enough archetypes to keep doctoral thesis writers busy for decades. Even the colors are pregnant with meaning.

The show is set on an island awash in lizard-boys, bright sprites, camouflage-suited sailors and Valkyries in red tights, all orchestrated by luminous Prospera ( Julie McInnes, who also plays violoncello, saxophone and sings hauntingly) and temperamental Moon Goddess ( Leysan Gayazova ).

Prospera and Moon Goddess tangle a bit over the romance between Prospera's daughter, Miranda (contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova), and Romeo ( Evgeny Kurkin , who does a nearly literally mind-blowing pole routine) .

This is a circus, so of course there are clowns ( Nathalee Claudeand Shereen Hickman). This excellent pair are bawdily Shakespearean, not the gap-mouthed creatures of nightmares. And their progeny lend new meaning to the concept of "the football hold" for infants.

The show is replete with subtle, intelligent nods to creation myths and Shakespeare (especially "The Tempest" and "Midsummer Night's Dream"); choreographic references to Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Pilobus and Twyla Tharpe; and an exquisite balancing act (performed by Lara Jacobs) visited by Alexander Caldwell's spirit.

Among the most animated creatures in the cast: Cali ( Viktor Kee) , a Caliban-ish lizard-man with a prehensile tail and that singular Cirque blend of danger and joy. If you're sitting in one of the first few rows, both your popcorn and your dignity are at risk. (Especially if you buy one of those $3 red clown noses at the upscale concessions stand.)

Ignore the intellectual references, and you'll still be mesmerized. Unicyclists Satomi and Yuka Sakaino, wearing architectural hoop skirts that morph into wings, are at once childlike and sexy. The eight acrobats in "Icarians and Water Meteors" twirl glowing discs that look like a fairy version of nunchucks. (Too bad *those* aren't at the concessions stand.)

Really, the whole cast is extraordinary, and frequently in more than one discipline. Cirque du Soleil's soundtracks are celebrated for their innovative combinations of instruments and vocals, and McInnes' portentous voice fills the air like mist.

The inventive revolving set, by Scott Pask, is full of surprises, including a vast bowl that's a cross between a pensieve and a cauldron. The costumes, by Mérédith Caron, become extensions of the wearer's body, especially those supple lizard boleros and Amy McClendon's marvelous white peacock dress.

A word about the stunts: "Amaluna" is an utterly mesmerizing show, but its most breathtaking moments involve the sort of anticipation untainted by a sense of imminent peril. Unlike "Ka," the Las Vegas show in which Cirque performer Sarah Guillot-Guyard died last month, the thrills sought in "Amaluna" are the kind that most mothers would condone.

"Amaluna" plays through August 25 in Denver. Tickets at cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/amaluna/default.aspx

Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, cmartin@denverpost.com or twitter.com/byclairemartin


This gorgeous show combines a smart narrative full of references to theater and dance classics, and acts of strength, precision, timing and balance that literally are breathtaking.