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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Cirque du Soleil's Alegria
Returns to San Francisco

Also see Richard's review of Friends

Cirque du Soleil brings back one of its most popular productions, Alegria, to the Bay Area where it currently appears under the blue and white Grand Chapiteau at Pacific Bell Park for a limited engagement through December 21. Alegria is the Spanish word for "elation, joy and jubilation," and this production features an international cast of 56 performers and musicians from 13 countries.

Cirque du Soleil's productions have been a great favorite of mine since I saw their first production in 1987 called We Reinvent the Circus in Los Angeles. Since then, I have seen every production, including their permanent presentations O and Mystere in Las Vegas. Alegria, one of the company's least pretentious shows, was first presented in 1994 and has always been a particular favorite of mine.

There are several ringmasters, including the hunchback, beak-nosed Fleur (Evgueni Ivanov) who wears a red velvet coachman's jacket, black brimmed hat and jeweled vest that barely covers his grotesquely protruding belly. This man is jealous, petty and angry but can turn on the charm at a moment notice. He parades around with a gaggle of bizarre bird people called "the Old Birds."

The Old Birds are twisted, deformed and ugly and they wear unbelievable hats and flamboyant costumes in rich tones of mauve, green and gold covered with lace, jewels and embroidery. They represent the old aristocracy who still think they have power and beauty but are only empty shells of their former selves. They are envious of the young beautiful artists doing great athletic feats.

Alegria's 2 and hour spectacle opens with Gaston Elie and Tuuli Paulina Rasanen, a youthful and carefree pair who swing from the top of the tent. They do amazing tricks on the trapeze overhead. This is followed by the acrobatic prowess of a group of young and tough boys from The Bronx. These athletic Adonises perform a brilliant display of synchronized choreography and tumbling achieved via a trampoline system that comes up from the floor of the stage.

Maria Silaeva follows, amazingly contorting her svelte body while twirling silver metal hoops. This enchanting performer combines rhythmic gymnastics and graceful ballet into her 10 minute act.

AlegriaOutstanding is Karl Sanfi doing the thrilling Fire Knife Dance. He waves up to four batons, like fire knives, around his entire body, from his feet to his palms to his mouth, dressed only in a Conan the Barbarian outfit. He dances to the pulsing rhythm of Congo drums.

Strong man Filippe Vorobiev, who looks like an early Arnold Schwarzenegger, does some tremendous lifting of heavy iron balls, including swinging these items free floating from hand to hand. It is impressive, but somewhat boring. The first act ends with a strange panto called "Storm," featuring clown Yuri Medvedev. It involves a small circular train track, another clown running around with a stove pipe hat with smoke coming from the top to sound effects of a train and a large blue canvas with a hole in the center. At the end, there is a "snow storm scene" with large paper flakes inundating the audience in the center section. Blue lights in the background make you feel that you are in the middle of a snow storm. It is an effective piece of theater.

Alegria's second act starts with Eve Montpetit singing the surreal melody "Alegria" which is a song that is full of melancholy and despair, joy and happiness. Her voice is exquisite and she looks like a delicate porcelain doll dressed in a luminous white gown that is adorned with jewels and pearls and a flowing crinoline.

Flying Man Aleksandri Dobrynin makes an exciting opening in this act as he combines the elasticity of a bungee with the power of gymnastic rings and soars through the air while performing acrobatic feats with his sculpted physique.

The Russian Bars are an electrifying trampoline-bounding and tumbling group of slim, muscular artists from Russia. The group tumbles to a choreographed score doing single, double or triple somersaults sometimes on very thin bamboo pogo sticks. Danys Tolsov follows with a great hand balancing performance that is very impressive.

Alegria's ending is once again a piece de resistance featuring an aerial high bar act with nine incredible human beings taking flight. Three high bars set more than 40 feet above the stage form the aerial playground for these daring acrobats to fly to and from the arms of the mighty catchers, and the act culminates in a death defying plunge into the net.

Rene Dupere's score is probably one of the best he has ever written for a Cirque du Soleil production. Much of the score is jazz, pop, tango and klezmer. There is a certain old fashioned French street beat to some of the music, especially with those wonderful French accordions are playing; they are very reminiscent of Paris in the '30s and '40s. The title song was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1996, and the score is the most successful in the company's history with the soundtrack recording reaching the platinum level twice in Canada.

Alegria plays in the big blue and white striped Grand Chapitau, a state of the art big top, at Pacific Bell Park for a limited engagement through December 21. Tickets are available by calling Admission Network at 1-800-678-5440 or visiting www.cirquedusolelil.com.


Photo: Al Seib


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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