The audience oohed, ahhed, laughed and cheered wildly as Cirque du Soleil made its highly anticipated debut in Taipei on Wednesday night with its touring show Alegria, which runs twice a day until Feb. 22 and is already sold out.
The Montreal-based performing arts company charmed and captivated a tent full of nearly 2,500 people with surreal characters in extravagant costumes, body-defying acrobatic stunts and theatrical finesse.
The show takes its name from the Spanish word for “jubilation,” and in its online program literature Cirque lists themes that form the backdrop of Alegria’s world: power and how it is passed on between generations, the historical shift from ancient monarchies to modern democracies, and old age versus youth.
The themes are framed by a cast of characters such as Fleur (played by Evgueni Ivanov), a grouchy, troll-like figure dressed in a long-tailed, red velvet jacket. Looking like an aging ringmaster in a modern circus, he prances back and forth on stage with several “nostalgic old birds” that dress in ornate 19th-century garb and hold pretensions of aristocracy, but appear unnatural and awkward.
Bringing youth and fantasy to the mix are several young winged nymphs, who dance on stage, hold up mirrors and strike alluring poses. Two singers in elegant gowns, one in white and the other in black, are the “voice” of the show as they croon in a make-believe language; while three clowns provide childlike wonder and comic relief.
It was easy to get lost in the otherworldly qualities of the characters and forget about the themes. Not that it matters. Alegria, as Cirque says, is ultimately about mood. There are no linear narratives, but rather a succession of acts that stir the emotions.
Visually, the show centered on the body and the exhilaration derived from pushing its limits.
Much of the evening was filled with the thrills of flying. In the trampoline act Power Track, 12 acrobats performed a rapid-fire succession of flips, spins and jumps that grew higher, more complex and spectacular. They moved with the steady discipline of martial artists and the grace of ballet dancers, and their long-held, proud poses after each move elicited raucous cheers from the audience.
Another set of acrobats, adorned with beaks and hats with feathers, were launched into the air from “Russian Bars,” long flexible beams ranging between 5cm and 15cm in width. For the show’s finale, the Aerial High Bar, a team of Russian acrobats hung suspended in the air on bars placed more than 12m above the stage and caught each other by the hands as they swung back and forth. The act concludes with a dramatic plunge into a large net stretched out below.
Closer to the ground, but equally engrossing, were unfathomable body poses from several contortionists. In the solo act Manipulation, Masha Silaeva performed a gymnastic routine while waving a long silk ribbon that created the illusion of spherical lines orbiting her body. Later she spun as many as six silver hula-hoops at the same time in various poses, some vaguely erotic, some simply strange.
Even more unsettling was a Mongolian duo of contortionists, Ulziibuyan Mergen and Oyun-Erdene Senge. They moved together in eerie unison, flexing their limber bodies into twisted, sculpture-like shapes. Their calm, almost nonchalant expressions made the poses seem more unbelievable.