Going to a Cirque du Soleil show is an opportunity to enter an alternate universe, a place skillfully and imaginatively conceived that resembles a dream more than waking reality. And yet it’s also rooted in an everyday world that’s not hard to connect to: clowns, music and acrobats.
Alegria, the 16-year-old touring show presently performing at The Bank of Kentucky Center on the Northern Kentucky University campus, is an entertainment to be enjoyed by children and adults. It’s polished and professional, yet presented with affecting naiveté. It captures the essence of why Cirque du Soleil has become a worldwide brand.
Alegria (a Spanish word that means happiness, joy and jubilation) begins with a strolling band of musicians in stylized white tuxes and bejeweled vests, white face (with long exaggerated noses) and fanciful hats. They parade around the elevated stage at the center of the arena floor, playing music that’s best described as a jazzy Klezmer march with a touch of tango.
They’re led by Fleur, a crabby jester and ringmaster, and trailed by the “Nostalgic Old Birds,” a half-dozen physically exaggerated characters, apparently overweight old women dressed shabbily in colorful 18th-century garments that might have once been stylish. The birds are, in fact, handlers throughout the show who spot the acrobats and perform other necessary onstage functions and do some clowning when they’re not otherwise occupied.
The performance of Alegria is a bit more than two hours with one intermission. This Cirque show is especially acrobatic, replete with tumblers and gymnasts, trapeze artists, contortionists and others with remarkable physical skills. Their acts are accompanied by musical performances by “The White Singer,” a storyteller (pictured) who ranges through an unintelligible but beautiful repertoire of New Age-ish numbers that set the emotional tone for each act; in some cases she’s partnered with “The Black Singer,” an alter ego who represents her wicked side. These two performers have gorgeous voices that enhance the dreamlike atmosphere.
Three clowns provide comic interludes that evoke humor regardless of your age or cultural experience. They are masterful with the physical aspect of their acts, but fully adept at taking in moments when they bring an audience member onstage to be part of their tomfoolery. In a series of routines involving a kind of rivalry around paper airplanes between two of them, the balance of power shifts back and forth in hilarious ways. In another, a solo clown interacts feelingly with an empty tuxedo on a hanger and then is caught in a surprising blizzard that eventually encompasses the audience seated on the arena’s floor.
The physical acts are breathtaking and fascinating. I especially marveled at the “Power Track,” gymnasts doing exaggerated tumbling displays in unison and in counterpoint, using an X-shaped, elongated trampoline that appears from within the stage floor. I believe the same performers (Cirque entertainers maintain a kind of anonymity that minimizes stars or even recognition of those who move from one act to another) returned for “Russian Bars,” another acrobatic act involving flexible single, double and triple bars on the shoulders of catchers who launch flyers high into the air where they flip and twist, then land perfectly on their narrow perches.
I also found myself gaping at the muscular fellows on the aerial high bar, a trapeze manned by two catchers who pluck spinning acrobats from the air after they spin and launch themselves into space. It’s an act of astonishing precision and strength.
There’s much more, but you get the picture. Altogether, Alegria has a cast of 55 performers from 17 countries. Since its inception in 1994, the show has visited more than 65 cities on five continents, performing more than 5,000 times to 10 million people.
It’s a technical marvel, too. A big-top circus can take several days to set up and tear down, but Alegria’s arena tour goes up in nine hours and comes down in two. This run, part of a 40-city tour, is in Northern Kentucky for just seven performances in four days and is well worth seeing.
ALEGRIA, a legendary Cirque du Soleil show, is at The Bank of Kentucky Center on Northern Kentucky University's campus in Highland Heights . Performances continue on Friday-Saturday at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 2 p.m. Buy tickets and get venue details here.