In the Sack with Cirque

Zumanity celebrates a decade, emerging as the prevailing symbol of sexy Vegas entertainment

Photo by Matilda Temperley

Photo by Matilda Temperley

Before reading this story …

Please whisper the password to gain entry into a universe of (simulated) heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, lesbianism, masturbation, dildos, sadomasochism, transvestism, genuine breasts, fake penises and orgiastic screwing.  Oh—and dirty words.

(Psst … It’s “Cirque du Soleil.”)

C’mon in, hot stuff. Zumanity welcomes you with open arms and—symbolically—spread legs. Just don’t invite Miley Cyrus and her foam-finger-to-the-crotch crudity—or things might actually get offensive.

Ironically, as Cirque’s R-rated circus celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month at New York-New York, shortly after Ms. Miley’s grinding, grating, degrading antics August 25 at MTV’s Video Music Awards, we are reminded that even with our “Sin City” moniker, we can sometimes outclass the culture at large. Measured not in explicitness but in spirit, style and sophistication, Zumanity is a relative choir boy-boy (plus boy-girl, plus girl-girl) compared to Pop Culture 2013 in a country that has—in entertainment terms—long been moving toward the nickname Sin Nation.

Remember, America: Countries that live in glass houses …

Given its scope and longevity, combining carnality and artistry via Cirque’s resources and imagination,Zumanity has earned status as Las Vegas’ signature representation of sex-based entertainment. Leaping beyond our erotic-revue teases (Crazy Girls, Fantasy, the just-closed Peepshow, etc.), it has proven that Vegas can do no-blush, big-scale sexiness without wallowing in trashiness, yet still thrill the pants and pantsuits off of us.

Sexiness—even sprinkled with coarseness—is not necessarily sleaziness, and can be much more, as exhibited by the exhibitionists of Zumanity. After all, sex is, in itself, an art. (Well, if you do it right.)


Zumanity host to the audience:

“You want to fuck my wife? It’s OK. Everybody does. Everybody has.”


Well, OK, maybe some trashiness. We said Zumanity didn’t wallow in trashiness. We didn’t say it excluded it. There is simple screwing and there is making love, and in its tone, Zumanity acknowledges both.

Officially opening September 20, 2003, Zumanity marked Cirque’s third entry on the Las Vegas Strip (now up to eight). At the time of its creation by René Richard Cyr and Dominic Champagne, Cirque CEO Guy Laliberté noted that he envisioned a concept that would depart from the Cirque formula so as not to cannibalize the acts and appeal of Mystère at Treasure Island and O at Bellagio, both of which preceded it.

Structurally, the production plays like a risqué cabaret rooted in the European decadence of the 1930s, in a theater constructed with intimacy in mind and featuring less of Cirque’s trademark sky-high balletics. Yet in its naughty, bawdy, sumptuously mounted celebration of sex—peppered with distinctly “adult” audience interaction not found at other Cirque productions—it is, metaphorically, all about soaring via the pleasures of the flesh.

Photo by Matilda Temperley

Photo by Matilda Temperley

Unlike Cirque’s family-focused entries, Zumanity (restricted to theatergoers 18 and older) features several topless female performers, while most other cast members are either semi-nude or trussed up in provocative costuming, including fishnets, corsets, cone bras, velvet, leather and feathers—and prosthetic genitals.

Entering a theater encased by red velvet walls—creating the aura of the world’s plushest red-light district—patrons are eased into the amorous atmosphere by characters who wander the front rows, their leering come-ons and blunt sex spiel making for a hilariously lewd warm-up. In this show element, Zumanitydoes resort to sexual bluntness.

Flirting relentlessly, a gigolo named Antonio invites women to spank him, while married “sex therapists”—suave Frenchman “Dick” (’natch) and his dizzy wife, Izzy—make the rounds, he shopping around his assets, she in search of a boyfriend. (This is where Dick facetiously offers up the missus for guest copulation.)

Wielding twin dildos, he hands one to another man and engages in “cockfighting.” Subtler eroticism unfolds around them, though, as other characters wander wordlessly behind them to enhance the mood, including a woman draped in furs, striking a Marlene Dietrich-like pose as she prowls the stage.

Formally kicking off the festive foray into the erotic arts, drag queen Edie, the show host and “Mistress of Sensuality,” schmoozes bawdily with the crowd. “Sex is beautiful, isn’t it?” she says. “Well, it is if you’ve got a partner. Or two.” Spotting a gay contingent in the crowd, she quips: “Was Donny & Marie sold out?”

Consider this foreplay before Zumanity sensuously makes love to its audience.

Among the riveting expressions of passion: “Hand 2 Hand,” in which two acrobats, male and female, intertwine, powerful athleticism transforming into lust; “Midnight Bath,” in which another couple in a tub use cascades of milk in a luscious, liquid caress of each other’s bodies; and the gay-oriented “2 Men,” as the male acrobats circle and embrace each other in a hot tango, escalating in sexual tension.

Highlighting Zumanity are two breathtaking sequences. In “Waterbowl,” two female acrobats splash around in a giant champagne glass, contorting into erotically charged forms that seem to challenge the limits of the human body. And in “Straps,” a female performer bound in bondage gear ascends higher and higher in a frenzy of self-inflicted pleasure and pain, teasing and torturing herself to the soundtrack of her own ecstatic moans.

Climaxing Zumanity, “Orgy” brings out the entire cast for a sensual buffet of writhing and faux-lovemaking on a lazy Susan-style platform, as two audiences members are coaxed onstage to join the carnal romp.


Daring and nonconformist, Zumanity boldly addresses much of the sexual spectrum beyond mainstream heterosexuality, treating grownups like grownups, and sex as a gift in all its stimulating, satisfying permutations. Yet in its abstract, idealized presentation of sexuality as if in a fever dream, it removes the frank reality of those “alternative” elements. Curious but less adventurous showgoers can be titillated by sexual predilections that extend beyond their own experiences, while not driven to discomfort.

Photo by Matilda Temperley

Photo by Matilda Temperley

Call it safe entertainment sex.

Not that Zumanity whitewashes the down-and-dirtier Vegas. Recent news reports detailing how the Las Vegas Sands Corp. is trying to evict the nightclub The Act, alleging onstage vulgarity—including performers simulating urinating and defecating on each other, as well as bestiality—reminds us of that.

Absinthe at Caesars Palace overflows with low-brow, freewheeling sex antics, such as co-host Penny Pibbets’ hilariously obscene sock puppets. Porn videos are still a significant export for us, and that industry’s climactic night—the breast-baring, profanity-polluted AVN Awards—still invades Vegas annually. In fact, Zumanity, in an unfortunate decision, performed a segment at the last one. Even so, it was the televised show’s only moment of genuine eroticism.

Treating sex as the foundation for artistry, Zumanity isn’t about “sin” in this city. It’s about pleasure. One decade in, this highly stylized production can still—pardon the euphemism—rise to the occasion. Like an experienced lover, it still surprises and satisfies, turning you on without grossing you out.

When it’s over, cuddle with the memory and enjoy the afterglow.

More from A&E…

Suggested Next Read

Plot Holes Mar 'Closed Circuit'


Plot Holes Mar 'Closed Circuit'

By Michael Phillips, Tribune Media Services

Closed Circuit, starring Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall as a pair of sleek English defense attorneys who make those Old Bailey wigs look positively haute, opens with security-camera screens, first four, then eight, then 12, then 15, dispassionately recording street activity and anonymous passers-by in London’s Borough Market neighborhood.