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Friday, November 20, 2009

Cirque du Soleil: Alegria in London



Last Friday I attended Cirque du Soleil: Alegria in London and was very impressed.  The show was well produced, immersive, engaging, musically enchanting, funny, and evocative.

The show starts with the rather queer Nostalgic Old Birds wandering around the stage and down into the floor audience only to be corralled by the bitter and captivating Fleur.  Fleur acts as our guide of sorts through the landscape of Alegria and kicks things off after a bit with a lively and participatory marching-band stroll through the floor audience.  He had us all clapping along to the beat emphatically as the lilting tune rang out joyously with the odd pause for an exultant shout of "Alegria!" from Fleur.

The actors at fairly regular turns enter the floor audience and even interact with them and pull them occasionally on stage.  Most of the main Acts do not, but much of the in-between bits do and these are the highlights of the show.

The show could be roughly divided into Characters and Acts with the Acts being of the breathtaking and impressive variety and the Characters bringing the human quotient acting as the glue holding the show together.  The White and Black Singers provide a beautiful lyrical backdrop to the Acts and the live band really pumps out some impressive beats and tunes; you would not believe it is all being performed live if you could not see them at the top back of the stage jamming away (and in costume no less).

The show does not lack in acrobatics, contortions, or visually interesting coordinated activities (I rather liked the trampoline "roads" that were choreographed on) and if you were hoping to see incredible feats of female flexibility or impressive feats of male strength, you will not go wanting.  What the show absolutely excels at, however, is the clowns.

Here is the description of the clowns from the main site:
The clowns are witnesses to the passing of centuries, the social commentators of Alegría. The clowns reflect the eternal spirit of mankind. They are grounded and realistic, telling little stories of everyday life – where everyone is a hero, where anyone can fall in love and suffer a broken heart. The clowns are visionaries – philosophers of absurdity. Endearing, comical and child-like, they turn the world into a circus.

And what a wonderful circus!  They both brilliantly mock the Acts themselves and also provide their own narrative.  From the two clowns that experience a friendly rivalry throughout the show, to the heartbreaking clown that emotes sadness in a way that only a fully simulated blizzard can top.  Yes, a blizzard makes a rather impressive bookend prior to intermission I would say.

To get the most out of this show I would encourage you to either buy a program (I did not) or read the descriptions of the Acts and Characters on the website.  There are many layers to Alegria and most of them are not apparent without some priming.  Be aware that, as in our case, the Acts on the website may not precisely be the acts performed due to the nature of staffing a touring show and the highly-skilled demands of the acts, although equivalent substitutions were made such that I didn't notice.

This was my first Cirque du Soleil performance and it will not be my last.  Many thanks to the talented cast of Alegria for putting on a wonderful show in London, Ontario!

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