Arts / Performing Arts

The Real Truths, Clown Romance Surprises and Heart-Stopping Moments of Cirque du Soleil’s Alegría

Your Crazy Cirque Questions Answered

BY // 03.09.20

Cirque du Soleil is likely the only performing arts company in the world where the statements: If you’ve seen one show, you’ve seen them all and if you’ve seen one show, you want to see them all, both remain true. Yes, most Cirque productions have a formula but one that works almost every single time.

The latest show to hit Texas, Alegría was also one of the first shows to hit Texas. Created in the mid-1990s, this bird themed, color exploding extravaganza helped define what Cirque du Soleil would become. Now a revised revival flies into the state with all new aerial and acrobatics as well as costumes and set design. The show is running now at Sam Houston Race Park through April 12 before heading to Austin to set up the Big Top at Circuit of The Americas for a April 22 to May 25 run.

So whether the show might be new to you or an old friend who’s had some work done, I thought I’d offer answers to some frequently asked questions (in that I often ponder these queries when heading into a Soleil show) to guide you through this back to the new-beginnings Cirque experience.

Q: Does Alegría contain a narrative I will easily comprehend having not purchased the program?

A: Absolutely not.

Like the majority of Cirque shows, Alegría unfurls some semblance of a storyline that very loosely ties the gravity defying acts together, but Alegría’s becomes as cryptic as most of the others. The show begins with an empty throne and court jester, who looks a little like a circa 90s Jim Carrey playing a demented Einstein. This former royal fool, Mr. Fleur, slinks about the set, then steals a crystal crowned scepter – which I first mistook for a bizarre snake sticking out of stage.

The crystal maybe makes Fleur the new king or something. At the very least, he waves his snake/scepter about a lot, giving commands in gibberish, the official language of Cirque du Soleil.

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Mr. Fleur, the not-quite ringmaster, still leads you through Alegría. (Photo by Photos Marie-Andrée Lemire / Costumes Dominique Lemieux / Cirque du Soleil 2019 )

We also meet the first of several rival gangs including what I thought were feature exaggerated freaks and feuding elven or fairy tribes who likely spend their days bulking up at the Alegría Y. I learned only from reading the program backstory that the separate groups represented different political fractions, including Aristocrats, Nymphs, Angels and the Bronx–because the Brooklyn would be too on the nose, I guess.

Does it matter that the plot is indecipherable?

Absolutely not. It’s Cirque. Just go with it go with it and all the pretty people dressed in winged costumes, towering wigs and ear and nose prosthetics, as they bodily break the laws of physics.

On a scale of Pennywise-horrific to ballon-animal-sculptor-annoying how tedious are the clown interludes?

Admittedly, I usually only tolerate the requisite clown scenes because I know Cirque needs to change scenery and equipment while also adhering to centuries-old circus tradition. But the true surprise of Alegría comes from a clown rom com that unfolds in quick scenes between the aerial and gymnastic feats and somehow turned into the sweet soul of the show.

Named only Tall Clown (Pablo Bermejo Medina) and Small Clown (Pablo Gomis Lopez), they meet cute, bicker, duel, fall in weird clown love, before politics tears them asunder. They save each other from a magical blizzard, play jealousy games with a member of the audience before settling into comfortable old married-clown coupledom. This clowning romance not only earns laughs but also pathos and several “Awwws” from the multigenerational audience.

If planning a casino and/or the Met Gala heist, which Alegría act should a criminal mastermind recruit? Asking for a friend.

Contact Hula Hoops dancer/gymnast/contortionist, Elena Lev flexibility master of the golden hoops. Even if she got caught, I’d wager no prison bars could hold her.

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While we’re not planning a casino heist, we know to call the Hula Hoops dancer if we do. (Photo by Photos Marie-Andrée Lemire / Costumes Dominique Lemieux / Cirque du Soleil 2019 )

Which act passes from G into R rated for sexual content if seen from a certain angle and they weren’t fully but skin-tightly clothed?

There’s always at least one performance that leans into artistically choreographed – shall we say–intimacy, and this year that act comes from the Ariel Straps performance between one of the rival Angels (Catherine Audy) and a Bronx (Bronxite?) member (Alexis Trudel), in a kind of Romeo and Juliet twist. And much twisting commences as the two create many a geometric shape with their entwined bodies high in the air.

Don’t worry, it all ends much more happily for these midair-crossed lovers than it did R&J. However, you might want to tell the youngest kids the sky lady and man are just doing their geometry homework.

Which act looks looks tame on program paper but ends up stealing the show?

The annual Cirque show-thievery honor goes to Knife Fire Dance (Lisiate Tovo), though I’d call him a dance warrior as he tames fire to do his bidding. Besides twirling fire on sticks and then holding flames barehanded, he even takes bite out of the contained inferno when he gets a bit peckish. But really Tovo’s smiles and obvious joy to perform his art nightly won over the crowd as much as his fire mastery.

While the daredevilry of the Alegría performances might wow a layperson, including a laying on the couch on weekends watching Netflix person, such as myself, would professional performers be as impressed?

I won’t reveal names because they didn’t know I snuck a few peeks at them during the show, but two extraordinary Houston Ballet soloists sat one row in front of me when I saw the show. Using as evidence their loud applause, plus hand-on-mouth reactions to some of the trapeze catches, tumbles and yes even floor dancing, I’d say even the most powerfully graceful body in the audience would give a “Bravo” of approval.

Most heart-stopping “Let Me Fall” Moment?

At the end of the High Bar performance, the climax of the show, the aerialist purposefully let go from those high bars 30 feet above the ground to fall with midair tumbles, twists and spins into the safety net. Beauty rides with the plunge to earth.

What song will lodge itself in my brain to wake me the next morning?

You won’t know any of the lyrics nor likely the notes of the verses but the title song Alegría’s refrain, which is just the word “Alegría” over and over will remain with you for many days. And so will the show itself.

Alegría runs at the Sam Houston Race Park through April 12 then heads to Austin to set up the Big Top at Circuit of The Americas April 22 to May 25.

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