Alegria is a masterpiece of sweeping, operatic live music, interpretive dance, ballet, acrobatics, gymnastics, and stupefying feats of strength, coordination and timing.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 30, 2009
A gangly figure capers onto the stage leaning on a cane, back hunched and belly thrusting absurdly from beneath a garish red coat. A bowler hat rests cockeyed on his head in the first of an evening full of charming non-sequiturs.
Amid the susurration of spectators meandering toward their seats, a bizarre cast of vagabonds slowly assembles, their meanderings taking them across the floor seats among the audience but back, inexorably, into formation on the stage.
Then the red-coated ringmaster - for that is what he is - hollers "Alegria!" and a five-piece band strikes up an eastern-European theme that hastens people into their seats and draws all attention to the stage. The show begins with an impressive duo of synchronized trapeze artists and everyone is hooked.
(Incidentally, the show is pronounced AH-le-GREE-uh, and not - as I had assumed - in the manner of the antihistamine.)
Circue du Soleil is always a bountiful, abundant spectacle, and Alegria, showing at Copps Coliseum until August 2, is no exception. It's sweeping, operatic live music with thrilling vocals by the Singer in White (whose dress and manner, if not her singing style, reminded me of Bjork at her most baroque), interpretive dance, ballet, acrobatics, gymnastics, and stupefying feats of strength, coordination and timing.
But underneath it all, it's still a circus. That means campy entertainment, complete with squabbling clowns and just enough unseemly frisson that the performance (like the performers themselves) never gets weighed down by self-importance.
Of course, when you're at the circus you need popcorn, and Copps doesn't disappoint. It seemed a bit strange to watch an elaborate stage that looks like it belongs in an Erasure concert while sitting in a hockey arena surrounded by people eating hot dogs and pizza. At the same time, the heavy-duty rigging at Copps means the set designers and choreographers could adapt the show to take advantage of more space and height.
And take advantage they did: the show is an escalating sequence of breathless superlatives in human performance (and the less I tell you about them, the more you'll enjoy watching them unfold), from astonishing acrobatics on an X-shaped trampoline to a sinuous ribbon and hoop dance, an absolutely gorgeous dance on a bungee cord, a harrowing act on Russian bars, an uncanny folding of contortionists, and much more. The magnificent penultimate act on the aerial high bar left me struggling to catch my breath.
The acts are interspersed with short segments of very broad physical comedy and pathos that serve very nicely as visual sorbet to cleanse the cognitive palate for the next sequence. By the end of the show, it was the dueling clowns, whose ingenious routines put the Three Stooges to shame, that won the audience's heart.
As I watched jugglers spin flaming torches I was struck by the compelling paradox of Cirque du Soleil: it combines the comfort and tradition of I've seen all this before with the astonishment of You ain't seen anything like this. It works because it simultaneously triggers our expectations and then confounds them.
The show itself has little by way of a story or narrative arc (at least, it had little that I could see, but I do acknowledge that I'm a literary philistine so maybe I just missed it). Instead, it shares a common mood of struggle against the adversity of an unyielding barrier - a struggle the players themselves make in their astounding efforts to shake off the exhausting burdens of gravity and mute physical laws so they can revel in a moment's joy.
Though I saw Alegria on opening night, the performances were polished and the players filled their roles with comfort and relish. If there were any missteps or rough edges, I didn't see them. This show is absolutely not to be missed.
One last thing: if you splurge for a seat on the floor, you may just end up participating in the show itself.