You’ve been to Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii. You’ve done the luau, seen the wiggling hips and the free falling fire torches. But what you probably haven’t experienced on Ka’anapali Beach, Maui is Cirque Polynesia at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa.
Think of Hyatt Regency Maui’s Cirque Polynesia as Ka’anapali Beach’s own sort of locavore entertainment, a thrilling South Pacific hybrid of Cirque du Soleil and one of those erstwhile Maui, Hawaii luaus. It’s an enterprise poised to add a new vertical (literally) dimension to a tourism entertainment sector that’s long since been on life support. (“If you just got married raise your hand!”)
Cirque Polynesia is a show with mind bending acrobatic and aerial acts along with how-do-they-do-that daredevil stunts. Toss in a few spicy Polynesian dancers and you’re reminded that you’re on Pele’s turf, not the chic, white-tented outpost of the famed Canadian-based troupe.
Ironically, in a state bursting at the seams with Polynesian dance, it’s the one element that’s clunky. Do we really need a Shaka Zulu chorus line of palm-skirted grown men and women doing a pom-pom squad routine to the Hawaii Five-O theme? Probably not, unless producers decided to leave it in to satisfy the one lone Jack who’d leave ineffably disappointed if at least one lowest common denominator element weren’t in evidence.
The rest of the island style dancing is kept at a minimum. It’s marginal (the face-painted native guys stationed on platforms stage left and right who provide the drum beats are better) but mercifully, not the show’s focus. That belongs to producer and performer Enrique Valencia, who took over the show in February.
Valencia, son of a flying trapeze artist dad from Chile, and an aerial acrobat mom from Cardiff, Wales started performing at age five. Without a visual point of reference it’s difficult to say how far he’s come, but one would imagine he has put all of his experience into Cirque Polynesia.
The result is a show, the only one in Hawaii, that’s nearly always exciting. Valencia has taken a smart approach, stacked it with performers with extensive circus backgrounds. It plays as such from the get go.
After a sort of stilted South Seas-esque opening that doesn’t really go anywhere, Cirque Polynesia rockets into high gear with Rocko the Acrobat, who uses his shirtless male partner as both a balance beam and kickstand. In less than ten minutes, Rocko manages to hoist himself into positions that are fun to watch, and for this reporter, provide new respect for the shoulder muscle.
There’s a captivating male and female duo silk net catch and release act, and a few minutes later, a mother daughter hanging perch/acrobat act. But take heed: this isn’t any random mother and daughter, and not any ordinary perch act.
These two women are of the circus dynasty Wallenda family. As such, they make sure your eyes never stray from the stage. Or for that matter, blink.
One wonders what it feels like being launched off a beam to spin at a high velocity with no support save for a neck brace when watching the women, who, by the way, look more like sisters instead of mother and daughter. The Wallendas make it appear intoxicatingly effortless.
Spell casting music plays as the show progresses. A vertiginous spinning metal frame box act is performed, a tightrope walk is navigated and a don’t-try-this-at-home balance act on too-numerous-to-count tiny cylinders and cans is accomplished. That takes the clock to about the 60-minute mark, and leads to the show’s finale: Valencia and his Wheel of Death act.
Valencia personally constructed the 33-foot high Wheel of Death metal apparatus. It spins at a dizzying pace as he walks inside of the wheel—blindfolded—then on top of it—while skipping rope—and finally, just to give you a jolt, does a flip. A couple of near missteps along the way only further drive home the point that this is far from walking on sunshine.
The act is a punctuation note that leaves you giddy, breathless and totally in the moment. An hour and fifteen minutes whiz by and you leave wondering what you were thinking about before you took your seat.
Try squeezing that kind of feeling out of a luau, a good venue for mai tais and shake-it-baby thrills, yes. But for real thrills on Maui, I’d book a seat at the Cirque Polynesia.
NOTE: The show is set on an outdoor stage on the grounds of the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. Seating is in rows of plastic armchairs. Take a light jacket if you tend to get cool in a breeze, and take a cushion if your posterior gets sore.