Cirque Du Soleil, Royal Albert Hall, London

4.00

Return of the 11-ring circus

From its origins as a homespun amalgam of circus and street-theatre skills in Canada two decades ago, Cirque du Soleil has ramified in a remarkable manner: its 11 shows include a Las Vegas spectacular and a cruise-ship special, with yet another entertainment, inspired by the music of the Beatles, due to be unveiled. But if its direction remains in French-Canadian hands, its talent is now predominantly Russian and Central Asian: at the Albert Hall you have to hunt through the huge cast list to find English or Latin-American names, and there are no Chinese.

This show's title, Alegria, is the Spanish word for happiness, and that's the mood its preamble establishes as the cast mill about on the stage. Apart from the obligatory pair with red noses and baggy overalls, the costumes of the gnomes, hunchbacks, and clowns are fanciful in the extreme, and the acrobats look gorgeous: there is nothing gross about their musculature, just perfect bodies, with the Mongolian contortionists like dainty insects smothered in ostrich-feather plumes. This massive auditorium, which normally defeats attempts to transform it, is for once unrecognisable, with the stage turned into a dappled forest glade.

The first act starts gently, over French-café accordion music, with two trapeze artists borne so serenely aloft that one doesn't register the difficulty of the feat.

After a half-hearted attempt by the clowns to generate some audience participation - why do they bother? - things get going with a troupe of Babylonian warriors hurtling past each other high in the air: this looks satisfyingly dangerous. Then comes a moment of pure beauty, as a blonde youth named Denys Tolstov balances upside down on two raised stirrups, and slowly twists his seemingly weightless body in graceful configurations in the air. Then he does it all again, eight feet up, on one hand: miraculous.

I can't see the point of the firebrand-twirlers who come next - you get such stuff free in the Covent Garden Piazza - but when Maria Sialeva appears with a 20-foot silk streamer and five hula-hoops, I am again entranced: as with Tolstov, the beauty of her juggling is elegantly understated, and her contortions are so decorative that they become balletic. The first half closes with a real coup de théâtre, as a little mimed tragedy redolent of Le Petit Prince suddenly explodes into a snowstorm, filling the entire hall with wind and scraps of white paper.

Not every act in the second half dazzles - the bungee-jumps by the "flying man" look neither death-defying nor very difficult - but I can hardly believe the daring of the Russian bar act, in which some very short but exceptionally muscular young gents catapult each other, somersaulting, 15ft into the air. The climax is a sweet moment in which a little boy dressed as monkey scrambles up into his father's arms and the conjoined pair then do an unsupported somersault of their own. And I loved the Mongolian contortionists, whose arms and legs are indistinguishable, and who move like creatures from the ocean depths. The seven-man high-wire act which brings things to a close is trapeze-art taken triumphantly to its limits.

This is, despite its weak spots, a beautifully-conceived entertainment, and every bit as impressive as the Chinese circus simultaneously showing at the South Bank: it can't be easy devising new ways to present acts which must perforce always remain the same. And, since I first caught it in Vienna 15 years ago, it's replaced a naff populist veneer with a brand of humour which needs no words to put it across: the nonsense language is comic in itself.

It is also rare to find a house band as good as this show's, which - alternating between bal musette, rock, and Miles Davis - shows what variety can be achieved with the aid of a saxophone, a trumpet, an accordion, an African drumkit, plus assorted electronic effects. This Cirque may be big business, but it hasn't sold its soul.

To 12 February (0870 380 0020)

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms