First Night: Po-faced circus fails to amaze

Cirque du Soleil: `Alegria' Royal Albert Hall London
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The Independent Online
IF YOU have booked a holiday next century to go and watch an inter-collegiate gymnastics competition in Smolensk, for pity's sake cancel it now. For a fraction of the price, a near-flawless simulacrum is available for viewing at the Albert Hall, going by the name of Alegria.

The circus troupe Cirque du Soleil is now an international touring multifranchise, so that what seemed sizzlingly avant-garde in mid-Eighties Quebec has acquired the globally anonymous patina of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. We no longer expect elephants in a circus, but we might expect rather more astonishing feats of human skill than this uneven show provides.

Not that there are not wonders. A beauteous elf in a sprayed-on luminous green leotard does quite remarkable things with steel hula-hoops, spinning one around her toes, casually held above her head, while others snake round her waist or shins. And a bevy of tumbling acrobats perform synchronised bouncy falls and a snowboarding competition's quota of mid-air spins. But a man on a trapeze, in a Spiderman outfit from which somebody cruelly ripped the sleeves, does little more than swing about a bit.

The less-than-amazing Cube Man, meanwhile, pulls himself up on suspended rings while his toes carry, er, a big cube. A "Polynesian artist" spins a few flaming sticks.

One disappointment of Alegria is its po-facedness. Ordinary actions are done in a bizarre, debased ballet style, and there is a lot of pointless running about with stiff arms by the large supporting cast. Occasionally an act is gently mocked afterwards: after Mr Polynesian Fire Artist, a sad-faced clown played nervously with a candle.

The gigantism of the presentation dwarfed the really good acts. But Alegria did boast one fine element: the music, an alternately melancholic, humorous and adrenaline-pumping blend of French tango, jazz and balladry. Only in Francophone hands can cheesy string synthesizers sound even vaguely cool nowadays.

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