Instead of the smell of sweat and sawdust, the predominant aroma emanating from a Cirque du Soleil show is of filthy lucre, from the money the audience have shelled out to be there and the lure of shiny merchandise that they’re enticed to buy on the way out, to the public thanking of the corporate sponsors who get a round of applause before the show has even begun.
In the midst of their own corporate money grabbing efforts, it’s a bit rich (so to speak) to write in the overpriced programme, “The children of the streets will not see Alegria. Laughter is still a luxury they cannot afford. Tonight, our cries of joy will become screams of rage because millions of young hearts will again freeze in the gutters of our goodwill. May Alegria become a rallying cry for those of us who still have a voice.”
Thus guilt-ed out, we sit back in our £55 seats and indulge in the wonderment that the affluence that has brought us here can give us. Thanks a bunch for reminding us! Cirque may also be in serious danger of repeating themselves – literally so with Alegria, since it has previously played at this address twice before – as the ‘formula’ (ethereal musical score, ersatz choreography, weird costuming) is becoming its own homogenised cliché.
I could also do without the typically tedious Cirque clowns; even the direct copy of Slava’s Snow Show – which has the Albert Hall enveloped in paper snow – isn’t nearly as effective as it is in Slava Polunin’s own show.
But even if all of this is starting to prove resistible, the trouble is that the rest of the acts the show contains remain in an irresistible class of their own. The contortionists contort in ways that suggest that they’ve had their spines removed; the hand-balancing man seems to be able to defy gravity; the two transfixing trapeze acts have a spine-tingling grace and beauty; the trampolines that criss-cross diagonally across the stage are a springboard for astonishing acrobats. All of this is breathtaking, gobsmacking, exhilarating: words are not enough.
- Mark Shenton