Zumanity: A Closer Look at the Human Zoo
Las Vegas, Nevada
|advertisements for Zumanity|
Las Vegas isn't just a city anymore.
I knew this as I stepped onto Nevada soil, knowing that my first trip to the Sin City would be nothing short of spectacular. I knew this as I realized with my own eyes that the infamous city of lights thrived on elite entertainment, with vacationers of all kinds fighting to be the naughty, sexy, daring, and playful people they always fantasized about being.
With the obnoxious flashing lights, the infectious clink and clank of the undying slot machines, the abrasively exposed skin and the trucks delivering hot ladies 24 hours a day, I expected a weekend of fun but still feared it would be nothing more than a city full of legal-aged adults still wishing they were on Spring Break.
However, Las Vegas surprised me: it served up some fine pleasures within its excess of slum, with Cirque du Soleil (or, Circus of the Sun) to thank for satisfying my appetite.
Before coming to Las Vegas, I was unaware of Cirque du Soleil's charm. Though one of us had already seen three other shows in the Cirque repertoire, the only truths I knew about the shows were that flexible performers performed stunning circus-like feats on stage. After debating with a gambler's intuition over which show to see, we played our cards confidently and decided on Zumanity, one of the four permanent Cirque du Soleil shows residing in Vegas (in addition to Ka, Mystere, and O). Knowing little else besides its supposed likeness to a French cabaret and the controversial buzz about the sensual themes it incorporated into its act, I thought I had satisfied two of my desires: one, to see some fabulous entertainment in this marvelous city, and two, to graduate to the next step from the family-oriented shows I'd spent my life seeing.
Though the Los Angeles Times rates the show as "an erotic nirvana," I can't say that I completely agree. This is why. The show claims to accurately depict the human body and sensuality through a series of vignettes dedicated to exposing and exploring the values and the taboos we associate with the sexual side of humanity, and not, as some would imagine, to relish in the act of it. The posters and advertisements are tantalizing swirls of couples with their bodies smudged just enough to leave the viewers wondering, and the performers tease the audience with elegant costumes and barely-there attire. It is the seduction of temptation, the idea behind the clothes, and not the in-your-face type of nudity so typical of Vegas that lures us in for more. In fact, the only nudity one will see in Zumanity is the occasional female, and nothing more. The rest is feigned for the imagination.
The show, permanently housed in the fabulous New York New York Hotel and Casino, begins with some comic relief, most likely to put the nervous audience at ease. They do this by involving the first row of the audience in jokes about partners and boyfriends and end with an exaggerated duel between the host and an audience member using synthetic penises as weapons. However, as the show begins, the tone changes considerably, as the crimson velvet curtains lift and the flaming candles dance along the walls as the mistress of ceremonies (a typical character for a French cabaret) appears in his high heels and fake eyelashes and warmly welcomes the crowd. For the next 90 minutes, the troupe seduces, hypnotizes, and amuses (with Cirque du Soleil's perfect combination of humor, dark secrets, gentle dancing, and fiery passions) and leaves you breathless with desire and admiration. While I watched, I couldn't help but feel as though I was in a mesmerizing tribal circus, inside a combination of raw beauty and heightened sensuality, and not inside a field of erotic fantasies. To state so would be to degrade the entire nature of the show. Sometimes, I found myself so enthralled that I needed to remember to blink.
Though the critics have been tough on Zumanity, professing that it does not live up to Cirque's high standards, I feel that this "other side of Cirque du Soleil" succeeded beautifully in its representation of the delicacy of the human body, in this "human zoo" within which we find ourselves. It is not for the meek or the conservative, nor does it claim to be. It is for the new, open-minded American who feels the oppression of sexuality too disheartening and wishes to experience a new level of understanding. From the spectacular water scene with the two Asian sisters, floating and swimming so gracefully and swirling about each other's bodies with poise and perfection, to the cage of men, battling wits and pride until they succumb to defeat, to the lonely contortionist man alone in his bedroom twisting his body in an exhilarating series of fantastic poses – after seeing Zumanity, you will never feel the same way about intimacy again. You will gain a newfound respect for the intricacies of the human body and its spectacular ability to be our vessel as well as our closest companion. Go with an open mind, go to be entertained, and go to see something new and innovative. Don't go to compare it to the rest of the Cirque du Soleil shows, because it is anything but the rest.
It's often said that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. However, taking the whispers of Zumanity from the theatre in Las Vegas to my home in Atlanta, having gained a new respect for the circus, myself, and Las Vegas, I can't say that I truly agree. Sometimes we take back just what we needed.