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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cirque du Soleil's Alegria soars

Posted by on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 at 3:31 PM

Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria
RBC Center, Raleigh
Evening and matinee shows through July 10

The fabled Cirque du Soleil, based in Montreal, but now a world-wide performing institution, has brought its light-hearted Alegria to Raleigh for a run that includes shows well-timed for children, who will especially appreciate the silly clowning in this confection that lauds the spirit of youth. Alegria is a Spanish word for the bubbly condition of joy, and the Cirque brings it physical reality with their extraordinarily strong circus techniques.

Alegria premiered in Montreal in 1994, and has become a Cirque classic, having been viewed by more than 10 million people as it has toured the world. The production includes all the elements for which Cirque du Soleil has become so renowned: Lavish sets that convey the shows’ grand, almost mythic, themes; spectacular enlargement of circus routines into something approaching Olympic ballet; fabulous costumes and makeup; and not least—very large casts of stupendously sleek and skilled artists engaging in marvelous acts of drollery and daring.

The Alegria cast includes 55 performers and musicians. In this large venue, your ability to appreciate all the visual elements will be greatly enhanced by binoculars or opera glasses. The musicians are a wonderful sight in whiteface, white hair, white dress suits and silver vests. Playing an energetic mash-up of klezmer, jazz, tango and pop songs, they enter in a parade before taking their places at the top of the raked stage, which is decorated with a huge, mosaic-like image of a salamander under dim, dappled light. They are accompanied by The White Singer, who periodically belts out a song promoting the mood for the forthcoming action sequence. A series of comically dressed characters introduce themselves, and considerable clowning takes place, building anticipation for the glorious feats of kinetic extremity to come.

And here they come! The acrobats! Springing, flipping and tumbling, they come one after another along the paths of an x-shaped trampoline that has been uncovered onstage. Wow, wow, wow! It is thrilling. With clown routines or songs in between there follow ever-more-amazing acts. Trapeze, of course, and hand balancing; Cyr wheel spinning with some very creative moves; a fantastic fire-knife piece with two dancers each twirling two batons flaming at each end. The two-woman contortion/balancing act was truly amazing, almost hypnotizing. The Russian bars are probably the most dangerous act. A long, flexible, narrow, board is held on the shoulders of two strong men. Onto it leaps an acrobat, who then bounces, and while in the air twirls and flips. He may land on his original board, or flip over onto another one, and the landing—such spotting, such balance on that bouncing strip!—is at least as awe-inspiring as the aerial work.

There are other aerial acts, but the show closes with the all-stops-out highflying trapeze act. From a catwalk in the lighting rig, the trapeze men launch themselves through the air, to catch the trapeze, or the hands of the person already on the trapeze, as it arcs through the air. Once four people are attached, they eel over each other and one swings back to the catwalk before another one joins the end of the group. This repeats until you think they must begin to fall. Instead, they jump. From graceful dives into the net below, they spring upright—a true testament to the glory of youth—and take graceful bows.

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