So the Cirque is back in town – and how. Petulant critics of Cirque du Soleil may decry the scale and sophistication of the whole glossy operation but there’s no denying that they deliver a spectacular show full of the most awe-inspiring acts.This show Amaluna (the company’s 33rd) is evidently their most successful in the UK and absolutely delivers on the ‘wow’ factor that’s become their trademark over the past few decades.

Customarily, the creators of any of the Cirque shows talk about a storyline, even though that’s something you’d usually be hard put to find much evidence of among the succession of extraordinary stunts and creations. Amaluna differs somewhat from the norm in that the elements of Shakespeare’s The Tempest are pretty obvious in its basic tale of castaway romance on a mysterious island. But this island is governed by goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. Queen Prospera summons a storm in the midst of her daughter Miranda’s coming-of-age ceremony, shipwrecking a group of young men – and one older, comic Captain – on the island. Suddenly, Miranda finds a brave young suitor among their number, but not everyone on the island is happy for her.

Amaluna by Cirque du SoleilSignificantly for the first time in Cirque du Soleil’s history, Amaluna features a cast that comprises a majority of women, with an all-female band. The show, claims director of ceation Fernand Rainville “is a tribute to the work and voice of women and a reflection on balance from a women’s perspective”, while Tony Award-winning writer/director Diane Paulus says:“I didn’t want to build a ‘women’s agenda’ show. I wanted to create a show with women at the centre of it, something that had a hidden story that featured women as the heroines.”

That’s not untrue but it’s rather less significant than the sheer spectacle and fun of the show for most of the audience, dotted for the first night with the usual array of showbiz folk and, of course, Carl Austin-Behan, our current, arts-friendly Lord Mayor.

The show immediately looks fantastic, seemingly set in some sort of high-tech woodland glade. There’s lots of loud music and rockstar posing; there’s a great deal of swinging, diving and running around the Big Top; there’s juggling and balancing; there’s some slightly disturbing sexual comedy involving a floppy sword (Ooh Matron!); and there’s water, water everywhere in an exhaustingly high-energy, nearly two-hour show. In fact there’s almost too much going on to take in on a single visit. But the one act that stuck in my mind was perhaps the quietest and most unlikely of all, as a sole performer balanced perilously on a series of wooden staves across each other. An adult version of Pik-A-Stix might not sound too enthralling on the face of it but the tension in the hall was palpable and the delighted applause quite genuine.

You could say that Amaluna is business as usual for Cirque du Soleil. But when they’ve set the bar so high, that’s an amazing achievement.

By Kevin Bourke

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Amaluna by Cirque du SoleilCirque du Soleil’s Amaluna is at at the Big Top, Intu Trafford Centre, Manchester until October 9. For more information, click here.