Cirque du Soleil has produced many shows since it began 26 years ago, and the newer they are the more technically inventive they get. But it’s nice, sometimes, to go back to beginnings, and with “Alegría” – one of the Canadian company’s oldest shows, and playing this week at the Tacoma Dome – you get all the wow with a good dose of innocence.
The stage is intimate: Instead of the vast space of the Big Top events, this adaptation for arena is sheltered under a dome, with Wonderland lights dotting a circular stage. After the standard clown introduction, which doesn’t work so well with house lights up, the band comes in with a strolling-tango vibe that sets the scene for the rest of the vibrant score. Bizarre bird-people in purple feathers bustle around, spiky nymphs make a brief appearance.
And then the fun begins. A trapeze duo swinging in perfect time to a Parisian waltz, with heartstopping mid-air twists, then an acrobat troupe flying down an X-shaped trampoline track with unbelievably fast back flips and soaring somersaults. The handstand balancer channels the jointed subtlety of classical Indian dance, and a furious duo not only fire-juggle but fire-twirl and even fire-walk, with slightly scary moments (is the floor really supposed to be on fire?)
One of the biggest hits at the Wednesday night opening were the two main clowns. Dressed traditionally, and acting like every six-year-old boy you’ve ever met, these guys did a great line in paper airplanes and pretend motorbikes.
A few acts in “Alegría” aren’t that compelling. The mime artist doesn’t make an impact in such a big venue. The Russian Bars, two bendy balance beams supported by two acrobats while a third does flips on top, are impressive but dull. The flying bungee-cord man spins brilliantly but stops a lot. And the story line is more obscure than most: Those old bird biddies are apparently enslaving the young athletes, represented vocally by a rather ditzy, breathy White Singer. It’s all a bit vague.
But the last two acts remind you just why Cirque is the international phenomenon that it is. Two contortionists, revolving on a turntable, execute those gut-squirming poses with astonishing grace and even whimsy, their costumes (pink torsos, yellow legs) echoing the ironic feel that these girls can somehow split themselves in two. And for the finale, an eight-person flying trapeze, with 360-degree swings on an aerial high bar dropping ten feet down into perfect catches, is just breathtaking – especially the unexpected exit of each acrobat flipping some 30 feet down to the safety mat below.
Cirque du Soleil performs “Alegría” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16, 17, 18; 3:30 p.m. Sept. 17, 18; 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Tacoma Dome, 2727 E. D St., Tacoma. $44-$104 adults/$41-$95 seniors, students, military/$37-$84 ages 2-12/free ages under-2. 866-448-7849, www.cirquedusoleil.com, www.ticketmaster.com