Women are at the heart of Cirque du Soleil’s newest production, Amaluna, premiering in Montreal before it travels to other Canadian cities.

The world-famous Cirque has 12 shows touring the world and nine permanent productions in cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Orlando.

Still, creators like to test new shows before a hometown audience, because they feel Montrealers are veterans when it comes to high-flying spectacle.

"People in Montreal are now experts in Cirque du Soleil....and because the expectations are very, very high, we have no choice but to come with new material, new content," Cirque CEO Daniel Lamarre told CBC News.

The challenge is to always find a fresh approach to material — and that comes with risk. In recent years for instance, the Cirque's Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour met with mixed reviews and its Banana Shpeel folded in less than a year.

Amaluna — Ama means mother and Luna (moon) is symbol of femininity — started with the question of what the world would be like if it were run by women.

It features strong women of history and literature, from the Amazons to Shakespeare’s Juliet and Miranda, as well as Queen Prospera, who directs her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony in a rite that honours femininity, renewal, rebirth and balance.


Queen Prospera and her daughter Miranda are key characters in the Amaluna story. (Cirque du Soleil)

Cirque hired Diane Paulus to direct. The New York-based theatre and opera director has drawn attention for her productions, including her Magic Flute for the Canadian Opera Company and Porgy and Bess on Broadway.

"All her new shows she was producing were really on the edge. And the challenge at Cirque du Soleil is always to maintain creativity and we like to have someone from outside, like her, to come and challenge our internal team to do something new...We have to get people surprised — every time it's becoming tougher and tougher for us," Lamarre said.

Paulus is working with a largely female cast and has loaded her script with Greek and Roman goddesses as well as Shakespearean heroines. They’re still swinging high on wires, but one young contortionist also swims in a giant fishbowl, conjuring life in the womb.

"The symbol for me of womanhood is regeneration, the idea of giving birth, the imagery of the moon, of water, the idea that women can bring new life to the planet," Paulus said.

Amaluna, Cirque du Soleil's 32nd production since 1984, runs in Montreal until July 15. It opens in Quebec City on July 25, in Toronto on Sept. 5 and in Vancouver on Nov. 23.