Cirque du Soleil to bring some ‘Alegria’ to Pitt

By Kieran Layton

The presence of conflict between tradition and youth can be seen in countless ways: a phone call… The presence of conflict between tradition and youth can be seen in countless ways: a phone call vs. texting, PCs vs. Macs or even Facebook vs. Twitter.

But watching trapeze artists, contortionists and gymnasts play out such a relevant battle? It’s not the first (or second or third) concept that comes to mind.

That’s precisely what audiences can expect to see, however, when comes to Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center from Oct. 7–11.

Instead of focusing solely on conflict, “Alegria” will convey a feeling of jubilation and celebration. This is no surprise, considering the title is a Spanish word that means “joy,” according to Sheryl-Lynne Valensky, the assistant artistic director of the show’s touring production.

“It’s one of what we call the ‘feel-good’ shows that Cirque du Soleil does. Basically, we have a lot of great acts with a lot of high-energy music that celebrates life and the differences between people,” Valensky said.

These differences — namely, between the old and the young — are played out by characters like the Old Birds and the Angels. Valensky said that the Old Birds represent an older generation stuck in their tradition, while the Angels “are all about change and innovation.”

While there’s not necessarily a plot, the carnivalesque acts for which Cirque is famous revolve around a central theme and are unified by the music.

“With Cirque, we have themes, and we tell stories, but it’s not like musical theater where you have a definite beginning, middle and end. We have a lot of threads that go through the show,” she said.

One such thread includes a striking image of two singers: one dressed in white, one in black. The White Singer “represents goodness,” while the Black Singer “is sort of her alter ego.”

“There’s [sic] all sorts of things on different levels. You can watch [“Alegria”] when you’re five years old and be amazed, and you can watch it when you’re 50 and still be amazed, but you also might get things on a different level,” she said.

Valensky compared the experience to many recent animated Disney films, which contain blatant content to entertain children. The films also include a subtle and subversive humor aimed towards adults.

“Alegria” was first performed in 1994, and it ran for 15 years. Valensky said that for this tour, the artistic team updated and refreshed the show and also adapted it for an arena setting, like the Pete.

“In 1994, what was current was the Internet and how it started to explode — just a different way of doing things, which fed into the theme of ‘Alegria.’

The old ways and tradition vs. the newness and change in the world was so relevant because at that time, there was the computer revolution,” she said.

For any Cirque du Soleil show, Valensky said the creators try to “take something that’s relevant at the time and see what comes out of the rehearsal process with the acrobats and the artists.”

The 55 performers for “Alegria” represent more than 187 countries, and includes Olympians, athletes, singers and dancers. To keep up with the stressful regimen that a Cirque du Soleil show entails, Valensky said that they require an obvious amount of discipline.

“When [performers] come to us to be in the show, they already have a training routine, so we just provide them with the tools to continue that. It’s more about prevention [of injury] than it is rejuvenation. We give them a whole backstage of training equipment to keep them in shape,” she said.

Despite the immense burden of traveling,the company adapts well, and the production team travels with it’s own stage, lighting and sound equipment.

For those who have never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, Valensky said there is no better choice than “Alegria” to break in a newbie.

“With everything going on in the world right now, with video games and the like, the fact that you can amaze someone and shock them — when someone sits there and goes ‘Wow!’ without any electronics or special effects — that to me is spectacular,” she said.

For Pitt students, the show makes it easy and affordable to garner such a reaction. Students are able to purchase $25 tickets now through Friday for Level Three seats on the Ticketmaster website.