Like many Cirque shows, "Wintuk" offers amazing spectacle: jaw-dropping acrobatics, elaborate dance numbers, and offbeat clowns mixed with a driving score, vivid set design, and inventive staging. To call it theatrical would undersell what it does. Where else will you see a pair of 20-foot herons (played by performers on stilts) flapping wings behind a single acrobat's performance? Or three ice giants fighting an army of aboriginal natives with long spears?
It's not just theatricality. Writer (and original director) Richard Blackburn created a vaguely mythical story line on which to hang the spectacle: A teenage boy, Jamie (Christopher Jones), lives in a city without snow. Determined to find it, Jamie travels north to the mythical Wintuk with a shaman (Laur Fugère), a strawberry-haired young girl (Charlotte "Charlie K." Martin), and Wimpy (Facundo Gimenez), a timid boy who wears a trash can to hide himself. Along the way, they meet a quartet of dogs (Terrance Harrison, Lurian Duarte, Derek Stangel, and Alexandre Tessier) as well as two nefarious thieves (Vincent Dubé and Sébastien Tardif) being chased by a daredevil policeman (Keigol Arizono) before reaching the frozen wasteland.
Within the framework of a circus performance, director Fernand Rainville maintains a surprisingly strong emphasis on character, adding distinct gestures and actions—especially with the acrobats—that reinforce each performer's place within the storytelling. While sometimes lost in the mayhem, these little details create a richer theatrical experience.
Still, the main thrill of "Wintuk" is in the acrobatic performers, of whom a few stand out. The four who play the dogs are incredible. Besides showing dazzling athleticism in elaborate costumes, each creates a unique personality for his or her character. In addition, Audrone Pavloviciene offers a bravura comic performance as a rag doll tossed hither and yon.
Presented by Cirque du Soleil at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza., NYC. Nov. 19–Jan. 2. Schedule varies. (866) 858-0007 or www.ticketmaster.com.