10 years later: Sensuality evolves at Zumanity

Sensual, erotic and sexual, Zumanity has tantalized audiences for the past 10 years. The adult-themed show was a first for Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil when it opened at New York-New York on the Las Vegas Strip.

At the time of the show’s opening on Sept. 20, 2003, Cirque’s then-creative director Lyn Heward described Zumanity to the Las Vegas Sun as “a show for lovers, would-be lovers and those simply fascinated by love.”

The show is that, and more.

Take the love scene between an acrobatic couple. Highly sensual and erotic, they gaze into each other’s eyes as they wrap around the other’s body, all the while accomplishing great acrobatic feats.

“It’s absolutely seamless,” said Zumanity dancer Agnes Roux, who performs as “Ms. Salsa.” “Because I’m a dancer and not an acrobat, I’m touched by emotion and something happening between the two people on stage. I like to be told a story than to see an acrobatic performance and just plain, cold technique, and in this act, I find that (emotion).

“I believe in their connection and what they do is crazy! They are one of the best at what they do, but it flows and it tells a story and it’s not only sexy, but it’s very sensual. You believe it. It doesn’t seem fake. It gives me the chills. The music itself is really taking you (there), how it intensifies. If I watch the show – ooh, my throat is going to be tight when watching this act. And I cry.”

There are clowns who flirt with the audience, a pair of heavyset twins and a gigolo in a gold suit who desperately seeks the pleasure of a woman.

The gigolo is a “typical macho man that he has a girlfriend in the morning, and a lover in the afternoon, he has a wife at night,” said Antonio Drija, a 53-year-old Venezuelan actor who has played the part of the gigolo since the show’s creation. “And beside that, he’s being rejected by all the women because they know his trick.”

At times, the show is playful, an attempt to take a lighthearted look at sex, between the tense erotic numbers. A silly number involving bushes – male and female – gets the audience roaring.

Drija said the show, although sexual in nature, remains tasteful and clean, but has evolved since the show’s debut, when he said it was more about “raw love.”

“I think it’s like when you have your sex life in your 20s and you have your sex life in your 30s,” Drija said of the show’s past 10 years. “It gets more mature and more intense and more unique. It makes you feel more special.”

About a dozen or so original cast members remain, including the French-born Roux and Drija.

“Every act is very unique and specific to the artist, so if that person leaves, you are going to replace them with somebody different,” Roux said. “It’s not going to be the same type of act, it’s not going to have the same color, same sensuality to it, so the show has evolved and changed, depending on who’s leaving and who’s still here.”

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The show is not as racy as it was when it first opened, but still inspires gasps from the audience, Roux said.

“You’re talking about sexuality and sensuality, but … everything is turned into a very fun, not comical, way,” she said. “I think this is why the show is really well-accepted and people have a blast. It’s done in a way that is not too serious. It’s talking about different stages of sexuality and different types of people and life, but it stays light.”

An act that has been a part of Zumanity since its inception is the love scene between two men. Ten years ago, that scene would have been seen as far more risqué than today, when gay rights and marriage equality is very much a part of the national discussion.

“That was the point: to be daring and to not to be offensive at all, just to let people think a little bit,” Roux said. “Let them see something they haven’t seen before. Push the boundaries just a little bit. Little by little, the show evolved that way, and the attitude is, everything changes. You cannot keep a show the same way twice, 10 years ago.”

Before Friday’s show, the Zumanity cast and crew will toast to 10 years of pushing Las Vegas’ sexual boundaries and bringing to Sin City a new level of discussion on the erotic and sensual.

“After 10 years … it was not an obvious thing to do for Cirque du Soleil, to go into a sexual, sensual show, go for eroticism,” Roux said. “It was daring. It’s not what Cirque du Soleil is known for. They took a big risk, and I think they’re really proud of this achievement. So, we’re celebrating big time.”