Quebec-bred Cirque du Soleil’s new touring show is another gorgeous spectacle that narrows the gap between traditional circus and today’s pyrotechnically oriented musical theater. “Alegria”– Spanish for a heightened state of happiness — should continue to expand its fast-growing aud during the next 16 months’ North American tour.
(Parallel troupes are simultaneously performing last year’s “Saltimbanco” in Japan and Europe, while “Mystere” holds forth in the company’s newly permanent Las Vegas theater.)
Some observers may still miss the old endearing funkiness, camp value and starker thrills of traditional circuses, or find Cirque’s fantasy-world feyness a tad Eurotrash. But there’s no doubt Cirque puts on a dazzling show, one whose aesthetic packaging has the virtue such semi-formless Broadway spectacles as “Cats” lack: It doesn’t pretend to have a book.
There is an alleged theme to “Alegria,” revolving around the age-old passing of life’s torch from the old to the young. At least that’s what promo materials suggest. Good luck finding that thread in the evening itself.
But Cirque’s aim is not to instruct — or even amaze in familiar daredevil circus style — so much as to enchant.
Every moment is carefully choreographed (by Debra Brown) and tech-designed to create fantastic stage pictures on Michel Crete’s vaguely lunar, sloping stage construct. Dominique Lemieux’s superb costumes cloak performers as exotic figures of commingled Tolkien/Grimm Bros./Audubon/Road Warrior imagining. (The vaguely equine nature of those for the House Troupe segs, accentuated by prancing movement, are especially fetching.) Luc LaFortune’s lighting exudes colors rich and subtle enough to recall vintage Disney animation features.
Overture, finale and between-specialty-act bits set a gently surreal, beyond-the-looking-glass tenor. Visual jokes include one clown with a shark-finned back “swimming” across the stage on a skateboard, another wafting on a sail-driven bed. Sad-faced clowning trio of Slava Polunin, Dmitry Bogatirev and Serguei Chachelev is actually among this edition’s weaker links, though their series of poetic pre-intermission solos (involving train travel, an out-of-reach butterfly and splashy “winter wind” effect) scores nicely.
Strongman Rick ZumWalt, bellowing like a ‘roid-raging version of Anthony Quinn in “La Strada,” makes use of the night’s sole audience-participation seg. But his muscle feats aren’t up to prior Cirque standards.
In separate acts, aerialists Xavier Lamoureux and Mikhail Matorin wax Nijinski-like with pretentiously framed yet graceful stunts. Climactic “Flying Levs”– seven Russian men costumed to feature their virile pecs — suitably astonish with neck-craning aerial tumbling, lit in intense red and green hues.
While Cirque is an animal-free prospect, it isn’t above putting children to work. Tiny Mongolian duo Chimed Ulziibayar and Nomin Tseveendorj contort themselves into bizarre, Balinese-dance-influenced sculptural shapes; 13 -year-old Chinese Li Sha Zheng supports 11-year-old Hui Kang on a tightrope whose grounding pole is shoulder-straddled.
In many ways the most impressive sequences are those spotlighting Cirque’s own 15-member, multinational House Troupe. Their first-act showcase is a stunning (albeit overlong) romp of synchronized trampoline tumbling on two crisscrossed “Fast Tracks.” Later, they win the night’s conspicuous-skill prize with a netless balancing/leaping session between bamboolike “Russian Bars.”
Relative intimacy of Cirque’s traveling big top remains a plus. A live band channels composer Rene Dupere’s variably propulsive and moody mix of world beat, soft rock and synth-pop; ballerina-attired Francesce Gagnon is the somewhat bombastic vocal vessel for his “lyrics,” which range from multilingual to nonsense.
While “Alegria” can be faulted on its moment-to-moment finesse, there’s no doubt its seamless overall package will wow auds both here and abroad.