Last Friday, a week and a day ago, at just this time we were watching the first half of "Alegria" at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, CT. This is possibly (I haven't checked) Cirque du Soleil's longest running show, having premiered in 1994 (though I also understand it's been revamped since). It's also the very first Cirque show I've seen in person. Truth: seeing it on TV or on DVD is not the same. Those seriously undercut the awesomeness.
Bridgeport has problems. Think of the most industrial, rundown sections of Somerville, at the very least. The Arena, though, is pretty nice. There's a commuter parking garage right next to it for convenience (the Amtrak station is very close, and the bus station just a block further away), though it would have been even more convenient for me if the elevator had been in working order. But, hey, event parking was only $5.00, which is an amazing bargain for those used to Boston area prices. The concession stands inside only advertise beer but they also have cheap wine, and for those running late, they also have hot dogs, quesidillas, and other "real" food. Seats... now that was interesting. Half the seats weren't available at all, because the stage was set in the middle and facing one direction. Presumably both for viewing ease and because Cirque needed the back half for prep. We also got discount tickets through the Cirque Club, and those were probably the less desireable higher-up seats by the sparsely populated gap between a lot of filled seats and the ones lower down. The Arena isn't large (there are only 26 rows) but the seats are steeply raked and we were in row "T", so very high up. Once the show started, it didn't matter as much. There was a great advantage in being able to take in the whole stage at a single view because Cirque does fill the whole stage, front and back, regardless of the actual performance being featured (but I want a cheat sheet to explain some of the background stuff!).
That's what makes Cirque du Soleil so astonishing, so different. It's a continual performance, front, back, sidelines. From the moment anyone comes in view, they're -on- and they're part of the whole. For me, it twinged some of the same chords as the Broadway musical version of "The Lion King", the one with the puppetry. (Of course, there's also the music. How many circuses would sell their soundtracks? Magnificent singers, magnificent musicians, magnificent music!) There was the same sense of surreal becoming real and then veering off into the surreal again, and while this was most notable in the framing sections, it was also true of the actual performances. Flooring is removed to reveal an X-shape of trampoline and tumblers come out to tumble on it. Yes, sure, beautifully done. But then it turns into ballet. Imagine a ballet where the dancers can throw themselves back and down and bounce effortlessly back into step, into perfect form. The tumblers that run to the ends and jump? Suddenly, in the music, one swears they are hanging in midair, suspended, till the music itself lets them drop.
Quibbles. Are there any? Well, it's me, so of course I can come with a couple. The intermission was off-center. The second half felt distinctly shorter, and was, and left me wanting more. The aerialists that came at the end? Yes, impressive, but their routines always ended in the same drop and catch and movement back up to the platform and I was spoiled, I kept expecting something startlingly different and that never came.
But see it. See any Cirque performance. You won't regret it.