The show is presented in the Zumanity Theatre. A lobby reminiscent of a classic opera house, complete with a winding staircase leading up to balcony seats, creates a sophisticated, alluring feeling. Moving toward the entrance to the theater proper, cushioned walls covered in soft fabric summon you forward, shades of red and blue creating a sensual atmosphere before even being seated.
Inside, the European opera house feeling is reinforced. Unlike other Cirque du Soleil productions, this purpose-built theater -- like Zumanity itself -- does not involve a lot of technical trickery or mechanical constructs. It is intimate and refined, a seemingly simple stage with an extended apron protruding from beneath gorgeous dark red curtains. Winding staircases flank both sides of the stage, leading up to a movable platform for the Zumanity Orchestra -- the interactive house band that provides the live soundtrack for the show.
Well before the show begins, characters appear from all sides, interacting with audience members in their individual, playfully erotic ways. Latin lothario Antonio arouses the interest of women (and some men) with his irresistible gigolo charm, while the lusciously voluptuous Botero Sisters -- in matching risqué ; maid uniforms -- offer fresh strawberries to audience members, managing to squeeze themselves into tightly packed aisles with comical results.
Zumanity begins organically, with the various preshow characters merging on stage with more of the cast, until emcee Joey Arias appears to guide the audience through the show, beginning with a brief introduction to each character as they parade down the catwalk to the fanfare of drums and horns.
Unlike recent Cirque productions, Zumanity makes no attempt at a storyline. In true cabaret style, each act stands alone, the only connecting factor being Arias' narrative songs and jokes. But the elements still come together smoothly, transitions eased by music and subtle set changes.
Despite the warm, sensual atmosphere, Zumanity still features dazzling displays of human capabilities stretched to their limits. Sara Joel and Stéphan Choinière demonstrate amazing strength and balance as they support each other in Kama Sutra-inspired positions. Gyulnara Karaeva and Bolormaa engage in an astonishing display of poise, beauty and skill in and on a giant water bowl. The beautiful Olga Vershinina performs with acrobatic grace high above the stage, suspended only by her own strength and skill upon two lengths of silk.
Zumanity is not all beauty and elegance, however. It also touches on the darker side of eroticism, on the primal urges of our natures and on the topics that much of our society deems "deviant." Tragic beauty Robyn struggles with nylon straps, dangling from the rafters, climaxing in an autoerotic act of ecstasy. Sweet and gorgeous Elena performs an alluring dance on and around a television set to distract her football-focused and neglectful lover. Caged dancers Bernard Giaddis and Kevin Gibbs struggle, cheered on by other prisoners, until they finally embrace in a passionate kiss.
A comedic quartet appears sporadically throughout the proceedings to break up the tension and remind us all that sex should always be -- above all else -- fun. When you boil down the multiple elements of Zumanity, that's really the underlying theme: Though some of the acts present serious images of eroticism, we should never forget that our bodies and our lives are meant for pure pleasure and sheer joy -- and that joy is meant to be shared.