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Thursday, January 13,2011

The joy of circus

Cirque du Soleil’s "Alegrķa" comes to 1stBank Center

By David Accomazzo

Cirque du Soleil is a curious success story in the entertainment business, one that started in Quebec in the early ’80s and grew into an international success of epic proportions, propelling the once-maligned circus arts into the same prominent spotlight shared by the world’s most famous musical, cinematic and theatrical stars.

Alegrķa, which comes to the 1stBank Center from Wednesday, Jan. 19, to Sunday, Jan. 23, is one of the company’s older shows, having debuted 16 years ago. Like all Cirque shows, the main attraction here is the whimsical way the directors loosely weave acrobatics, gymnastics, choreography and more around a common theme. But let’s not kid ourselves here: No one goes to Cirque du Soleil for the story. That’d be like a teenager reading Playboy for the articles, or Sarah Palin reading anything. It’s just not plausible.

No, Cirque du Soleil is all about exposing audiences to physical feats they never imagined in the most fantastic way possible.

Part of the main attraction of Cirque du Soleil is that most audiences have simply never seen anything like it — the clowns, the power track acts, the trapeze artists — and never in such an artistic, cohesive manner. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey? Prepare for a run for your money, because Cirque du Soleil just might be the greatest show on Earth.

The current version of Alegrķa brings 18 trucks and 97 people to Broomfield, with 17 countries represented and 11 languages spoken on set.

The show itself deals with themes of old and new, of the old guard clinging to the vestiges of youth as the youth prepares to become the new guard. Artistic Director Tim Smith, a Broadway veteran, spoke with Boulder Weekly about the challenges of using circus acts to make art and of the sheer uniqueness of working for a company like Cirque du Soleil.

Boulder Weekly: So what’s it like as a director coming into a show with so much history behind it? What sort of creative influence do you bring to the show?

Tim Smith: What’s most exciting, having the perspective of being 15 years in another entertainment commercial theater career, is that it’s different from the theater, mainly because of the uniqueness of Cirque. The mandate of the company is creation. And so, if you went to see Phantom of the Opera, say, that’s been open 15 years, you’ll see the same show start to finish that was created 15 years ago. That’s just the way theater works. [Cirque du Soleil] constantly evolves and constantly inspires the artist and entire production to uphold the initial creative ideas and themes, but it continues to grow every day. We put new things in and new acts and new images and new artists. It’s a 16-year-old production, but with the mandate of Cirque, it constantly evolves.

BW: So how does one inspire trapeze artists to do a different act? Have you ever worked with these types of performers before?

TS: Exactly. Not at all. The structure that Cirque has created, as unique as they are, is amazing, because they’re the only company doing what they’re doing. So they can’t look at other companies and say, oh, how do they do this — no, the structure that they’ve created and the success that they’ve created 25 years later is original and unique to them. So, yes, I am the artistic director; I have never been 42 feet in the air. And so, how do you manage that and direct that creatively? I work directly with the head coaches and the artistic coaches for each act to create and to inspire these disciplines … to do what I’d like to see happen, and they take it from there and make it happen and are up for the chal lenge.

And the next thing you know, we are doing it to music, and we need a flip here and we need something there. That’s the collaborative effort that’s really the structure that [Cirque has] put in place.

BW: Can you tell me a little bit about the show? How is it structured?

TS: Each production is very different. … Each show is different. Alegrķa is the Spanish word for joy, and it sets up the theme of the old generation, the old money, the old establishment … and their relationship, and their challenges and their collaboration with the new generation, which pushes the world forward and progresses it forward.

How we move together into the next generation and how we give the world to the young that are going to move us forward and going to progress us forward: That is Alegrķa.

BW: How do you as artistic director approach translating that concept into the circus performance in which Cirque specializes?

TS: Exactly, I think the question is spot-on, and I just go back to the definition of what Cirque du Soleil has created and what they do best. These themes, these creative ideas for each show, are just that — ideas inspiring the creators to come up with Alegrķa, but like any other theatrical event, they don’t really want to take you from point A to point B and drive you through the whole thing. They want you to have an experience that you individually can explore and be excited about. So you might see Alegrķa and although those are the themes that are on the ground or in the minds of the creators, you might see it and come up with a completely different concept. I might be sitting next to you and come up with a completely different storyline, because the pictures are so avant garde.

As the artistic director, if you’re inspiring the show and holding true to the initial creative idea, yes, I need to keep those ideas as far as how to explain how to come at it as an artist, and yet the skill still needs to be there as far as flipping through the air. It’s a very interesting marriage, because you’re not just doing the skills; it needs to fall in and have the emotion and have the intent as to what we’re explaining. So that’s my job — to give this information to the artist, so it makes sense what they’re doing, as opposed to just checking boxes and thrilling you by what their skill set is. Cirque wraps a whole environment and world around that, which is different from just the circus.

On the Bill:

Cirque du Soleil’s Alegrķa comes to the 1stBank Center from Jan. 19 to Jan 23. Tickets are $35 to $90. For tickets, visit 1stbankcenter.com/events. 11450 Broomfield Lane, Broomfield, 303-410-0700.


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