Dates: 10 July -10 August 2003
: Le Grand Chapiteau at Concord Pacific Place

Reviewer: John Jane







Director: Franco Dragone

Musical Director: René Dupéré
Set Design: Michel Crête
Costume Design: Dominique Lemieux

The Big Top goes hi-tech with Cirque du Soleil’s presentation of Alegria. Established twenty years ago by Quebec street entertainers Guy Laliberte and Gilles St.Croix, the Cirque has since become an extraordinary international phenomenon that still follows it’s original vision “To invoke, provoke and evoke the imagination”.

Those of us who were initiated to the circus through ‘Barnum & Bailey’ would have found Le Grand Chapiteau (The Big Top) full of innovation. A unique rolling stage, with musicians stationed almost transparently at the higher end and sliding floor panels that reveal ‘the fast track’ (a kind of cruciform underfloor trampoline) is a marvel in creative technology.

With a phantasmagoric fable that inspires the audience to form their own account of the story, Alegria provides all the magical elements (except wild animals) of the traditional circus. Amazing physical feats by acrobats, contortionists, trapeze artists and a fire dancer combined with outstanding musicians performing original music by Rene Dupere, who provided an ethereal soundtrack that was constant throughout the entire show.

And who could forget the clowns? Clowns that could move you to cry as well as chuckle. Even before the show started the clowns moved through the audience, engaging the crowd in some knockabout fun. One dragging a huge open bag of popcorn around, occasionally showering good-natured “victims”.

Veteran Russian clown Yuri Medvedev gave a particularly poignant performance. To the accompaniment of “Nocturne”, his use of clever mime and minimum props relates the tale of a solitary lonely traveler. First appearing as the train, then the traveler, he stops to remove an old black coat and hat from a battered suitcase and hangs it from a rope ladder. When the garments suddenly take life, the clown engages in a brief friendship.





The scene ends wistfully, when Yuri dejectedly tears up a note left in his pocket and tears it in pieces. When the pieces are thrown in the air, they magically turn to snowflakes. The snowflakes multiply, culminating in a howling snowstorm.

In his flamboyant red garb and grotesque make-up, Monsieur Fleur provides Alegria with it’s motif. Its in his ambiguous disposition of surly ringmaster and mysterious shaman that somehow defines the link between carnival and theatre.

Undoubtedly, one of the most jaw-dropping acts had to be Manipulation performed by Russian gymnast Maria Silaeva. Demonstrating unbelievable agility in combining juggling with contortion, she twirls banner ribbons and multiple hula-hoops that reflect the colourful lighting with incredible effect.

Filippe Vorobiev’s Strong Man act, though mildly entertaining, seemed out of step with Alegria’s fast-paced visual format. A quaint throwback to the carnival aspect of the circus perhaps, but for the audience sitting twenty rows back, Vorobiev’s feats looked pedestrian.

The show draws to its conclusion as it began, with the refrain of the theme song Alegria sung by talented Jonquiere native Francesca Gagnon, appearing as the ‘White Singer’. As the ‘Old Birds’ peer into their glassless mirrors one last time and the performers return to the stage for a final bow, Alegria ends.

Since Cirque’s last visit to Vancouver as part of EXPO 86, it has grown from street theatre to a mammoth touring company providing top class entertainment for the whole family. At ninety bucks for a ticket, its not cheap fare, but quality rarely is.

© 2003, John Jane