Going to a Cirque du Soleil show is like landing in a dreamy alternative universe. With elaborate costumes, ethereal acrobats and mind-blowing contortionists, it's a bit trippy but thoroughly enchanting. Alegria, at the St. Pete Times Forum, is the epitome of it all. Here are ten things to know before you go.
WHAT DOES THE TITLE MEAN?
Alegria is a Spanish word for elation, joy, jubilation.
IS THERE A STORY?
Well, kind of. On the surface, the show appears to be mainly a series of acrobatic numbers, interspersed with clown acts and bizarrely random happenings. But Alegria actually has a rather elaborate backstory about a society whose ruler has been overthrown and the ensuing rivalry between an older and younger generation to assume power. It's typical Cirque, farfetched but effective in the context of the vivid music and staging.
FOR THE BIRDS
Suggestions of bird life are everywhere in Alegria. Bird songs, whistles and chirps play over the sound system. Many performers wear feathery caps. A mechanical bird on a wire descends from the darkness. Comically grotesque Old Birds are a constant presence. Muscular sprites with wings scamper around the stage to strike enchanting poses. Brilliantly costumed humans flying through the air like so many exotic birds draw oohs and aahs from the crowd.
Alegria has played to more than 10 million people since its 1994 premiere. It was conceived by Cirque guru Franco Dragone, whose surrealistic vision owes a debt to Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. Alegria is the company's only show to be made into a feature film. Directed by Dragone and released in 1998, it stars Frank Langella as Fleur, the ringmaster. Whoopi Goldberg makes an appearance as a clown. There is also a 2001 movie of the stage show made in Sydney, Australia. Dragone went on to direct Celine Dion's show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Power Track features men and women in jumpsuits doing spectacular flips on an X-shaped trampoline cut into the stage. Russian Bars, to a hot sax solo, is another soaring act, with featherweight flyers tossed from bar to bar, held by burly catchers. Aerial High Bars has daredevils on a swing high above a net.
MONGOLIA, HOME OF CONTORTION
Strong, incredibly limber, strange and beautiful — such are the descriptions inspired by the contortion act of young Mongolian performers who bend into extreme shapes. Manipulation combines contortion, ballet, spinning hoops and silk ribbons.
With a score by René Dupéré, Alegria is one of Cirque's most musically satisfying shows, and the CD is the bestselling of all the soundtracks. The white-clad musicians with powdered wigs and pointy noses are like figures from a ghostly Restoration comedy. The lyrics are a mix of Italian, Spanish and gibberish, with the last couplet of the title song in English: "Alegria, I see a spark of life shining/Alegria, I hear a young minstrel sing."
NO MORE BIG TOP?
Cirque du Soleil used to bring shows under its blue and yellow Grand Chapiteau to St. Petersburg, where it set up in the Tropicana Field parking lot for Quidam, Alegria and Varekai, the most recent in 2005. The company still does plenty of touring in tents, but not to the bay area anymore. Saltimbanco and now Alegria have been reconfigured to play arenas such as the Times Forum, which lacks the atmosphere and intimacy of the big top.
ALL DRESSED UP
What really makes the show are the rich, detailed costumes. There are more than 400 pieces, including shoes, wigs, hats and accoutrements. Some trivia:
• Just one Old Bird costume takes about 200 hours to make.
• More than 200 jewels are hand-sewn into each of the singers' costumes.
• No wonder: The tour travels with its own washers and dryers to clean the costumes.
Fleur: Your guide. Elegantly dressed with a lighted staff, he's a crabby ringmaster.
The singers: There are two hoop-skirted singers. The one in white is the storyteller, who echoes everything around her. The other, in black, is her alter ego with a dark heart.
Nostalgic Old Birds: They represent the old aristocracy, who believe they are powerful and beautiful instead of twisted and ugly. (They also help out onstage.)