A&E Pick of the Week
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You may not expect a Cirque du Soleil show to exemplify the adage that less is more, but here are three reasons it does, which I was surprised to learn at the second night of the entertaining run of the circus extravaganza “Alegría” (through March 13) at Marymoor Park:
The dominant set piece is superfluous. The three-quarter-round stage is backed in Act 1 by a huge metal throne, which clearly is going to be compared by everyone who sees it to the throne in a certain HBO epic miniseries. (At intermission it vanishes, to be replaced by a bandstand for the four live musicians who throughout the show play along with the prerecorded soundtrack score.) It’s surrounded by a corona of spikes, called “The Crown”: 120 splayed poles of the kind you might impale an enemy’s head on. I hope it’s not too intimidating for young audience members, because it really doesn’t play a part in the show that ensues.
So is the story, which is generally the silliest part of a Cirque du Soleil show anyway, and “Alegría” — one of the company’s original touring shows, which ran from 1994 to 2013 and was revived and revamped in 2019 — established the tradition. “Alegría” is set in a mysterious kingdom where a character named Mr. Fleur, “a conceited, manipulative and unpredictable character,” says the press kit, “clumsily tries to impose his authority.” Your guess is as good as mine as to why Cirque du Soleil thought 2019 the right time to bring this character back. Taking sides in the conflict as Mr. Fleur vies for control of the kingdom are various groups of flamboyantly costumed performers representing “The Bronx,” “The Nymphs,” “The Angels” and “The Aristocrats” — ripe for any allegorical meanings you might want to impose, but I promise you won’t have any less fun if you don’t follow any of this.
The less elaborate the setup, the more impressive the acrobatics are. The best thing about this early Cirque show is that you can tell it’s not far removed from the now-global organization’s DIY roots, which really did start with just a couple of buskers ambling around Quebec on a bus. (Imagine your favorite bar band is now playing stadiums, which is awesome for them, but you do miss seeing them at the bar.) Among all the eye-popping acts, interspersed with comedy mime routines by two Aristocrats, the most breathtaking are the stripped-down ones, in which the brilliantly talented performers have very little other than themselves to work with. In increasing order of minimalism:
- The Acro Poles, in which flexible vaulting poles are deployed like bouncy parallel bars as acrobats spring from one to the other.
- The Hula-Hoop artist, who keeps one, then several, then a couple dozen of them spinning on various body parts.
- A group of tumblers who somersault and soar over and past one another on trampoline inserts in the stage floor.
- The hand balancing act, in which one Angel lifts a lighter one into bendy and impossible poses, and which uses no props, rigging or special staging at all.
Even the biggest special effect in “Alegría,” a faux-blizzard, is just tiny squares of tissue paper blown by immense fans out into the audience; they fill the tent, and the moment is hilarious and fun out of all proportion to its simplicity. It’s great when a performing institution known for in-your-face spectacle still remembers the power of imagination and how to make a lot out of a little.