The joy of circus

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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.

Alegría, 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 Alegría 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. Alegría 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 Alegría.

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 Alegría, 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 Alegría 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 Alegría 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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