Cirque du Soleil has tumbled into town with a confection of a show, infusing glitz, acrobatics and spectacle into a holiday event.
Directed and written by James Hadley, " 'Twas the Night Before" takes Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem, known by its first line, " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," as a base text. It's heard as a voiceover.
Characters from the poem appear, including the father (aerialist Theodore Addison Spencer), St. Nicholas (referred to as Jolly, then Santa Claus, and played by juggler Roberto Carlos Carbajal Aguilar) and the reindeer (in the form of hoop divers). There are also new characters like the jaded teen Isabella (acrobatic bicyclist Alexane LeClerc) and the mischievous hip-hop dancing sprites called Les Tuques, who guide her into a winter night adventure.
Composer and music director Jean-Phi Goncalves incorporates Christmas carols into the score, along with original music. Both the new tunes and the contemporized classics feel fresh, offering a range of mood. The father's poignant lamp aerial act, set to Goncalves' rendition of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," is one of the more touching moments.
Goncalves also injects a catchy beat to the dance numbers, and Vinh Nguyen Kinjaz's choreography is full of quick, stylish moves. The Les Tuques often dance in synchronicity with one another but also have moments where they show off their solo breaking moves, like the worm. When not dancing, the performers offer comic relief through physical slapstick.
It's not an elaborate story, and follows the conceit of "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Nutcracker," where a teen enters a fantasy world and has an adventure. The structure allows for Cirque du Soleil's madcap cast of circus performers to showcase their acts.
Under the direction of acrobatic choreographer Edesia Moreno, the whimsical realm has a few jaw-dropping numbers. When Tim Kriegler and Maxime Piché Luneau perform on duo straps, they seamlessly move in and around each other, their bodies creating mesmerizing triangles as they float in the air. It's a reminder of the remarkable things a human body can do after years of training.
A group of peppermint-striped creatures with unicorn and other animal headpieces perform a high-energy table dance brimming with flips and slides in a rousing number. The glow-in-the-dark diabolo act (similar to a Chinese yo-yo) also provides a hypnotic highlight.
Leah Simone Wolff, as a self-involved starlet named Ava, performs a marvelous aerial act on a hotel cart that gets hoisted into the air. The shadow created by lighting designer Nicolas Brion from Wolff performing in the cart evokes the look of a dancer in a music box. An inclined part of the set, designed by art director and set designer Geneviéve Lizotte, accentuates the effect.
When Jolly drops one of his juggling snowballs, or when one of the reindeer misses his mark as he's pummeled through a hoop, and the hoop goes hurling into the audience, as happened on opening night, there's a sense of relief that no one got hurt. It's a bit harder to lay aside worry knowing how painful it must be for Priscila Teixeira Santos to fly through the air suspended by a clamp attached to her hair. Her performance is sublimely graceful, if unsettling.
Ultimately, " 'Twas the Night Before" is two things at once: a holiday tale and a circus arts showcase. What it lacks in narrative, it makes up in pizazz.
' 'Twas the Night Before'
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; 1, 4, & 7:30 p.m. Sat.; noon, 3 & 6 p.m. Sun.
Where: Northrop, 84 SE. Church St., Mpls.
Tickets: $42-$122, 612-624-2345, hennepintheatretrust.org