Cirque du Soleil built the show “Alegria” in 1994 on the concept of the conflict between the old and new.
The production, one of the oldest in Cirque’s cadre of traveling extravaganzas and traditionally performed under the big top, now is reinventing itself in new ways to accommodate arena performances.
That means when “Alegria” pulls into Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena for a five-day run, audiences will get to see the juxtaposition of the old and the new within the show itself.
“Alegria” began in 1994 during a time when the Internet was taking shape and the future seemed full of possibilities.
“There was an element of freedom,” said Artistic Director Brooke Webb. “It takes us to the next level of life, and that is where it hits home.”
That spirit of growth spawned the idea for “Alegria” — the name coming from the Spanish word for joy, bliss or jubilation, Webb said.
“Within Cirque, ‘Alegria’ is (still) a jewel,” said Webb, who joined the famous, 25-year-old Canadian company after a career in theater.
She said “Alegria” creators wanted to evoke a time when fantasy and magic were part of everyday life.
The story follows the Old Birds, a fragile generation who resist change, and the Bronx, a younger generation, confident in the face of modernization.
It features characters both meaningful and symbolic, such as the guide Fleur, who is unreliable and unpredictable, as well as the White Singer and the Black Singer, alter egos who echo the events around them.
In performing this story, the cast of more than 55 people from 17 different countries includes classic circus acts like the trapeze, high bar and contortion, taken to a new level.
Even with so many Cirque shows traveling the country, this one remains relevant 16 years after its creation because of its focus on freedom and change.
“The beauty of Cirque is that we are more than a circus, we are theater,” said Webb, who worked with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber on “Cats.” “By nature, circus and acrobatics cut off the audience. But Cirque asks our performers to dance, to be actors and to connect with the audience. They are not gymnasts. They are artists who spend a lot of time crafting and working on the details.”
While many fans find the sets and performances breathtaking, Webb thinks they would be equally impressed by the ability of the cast and crew to assemble and disassemble the set in each new arena. For a show under the big top it usually takes nine days to set-up the infrastructure and two-plus days for tear down. With the arena tour of “Alegria,” setup has to be done in nine hours and tear down in barely two.
“The biggest challenges are the technical and environment challenges,” Webb said. “It’s like building a house and disassembling it every week.”
While some challenges are physical, others are mental.
“Behind the scenes is fast-paced,” Webb said. “Everyone faces challenges and one of those challenges is keeping the show alive artistically.”
For Webb the show is alive, and new, every time she watches it.
“(For) 90 percent of the show, I never want to leave my seat,” she said. “I want to get up and dance. The show has that energy for me.”
If you go
What: Cirque du Soleil’s “Alegria.”
When: Wednesday, July 8 through Sunday, July 12.
Where: Verizon Wireless Arena, 555 Elm St., Manchester, N.H.
How: Tickets cost $33 to $96. Call 800-745-3000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
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About Cirque du Soleil
Founded in 1982 at Fete Foraine de Baie-Saint-Paul in Quebec, as part of the 450th anniversary celebration of Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada. Performed in the town of Gaspe, as well as 10 other cities throughout the province.
In 1988, Cirque du Soleil toured North America with its “We Reinvent Circus” show. One of the stops was the Calgary Olympics.
Montreal hosted “Nouvelle Experience” in 1990, the world premiere of a new production.
In 1992, Cirque du Soleil made a name for itself on the other side of Pacific, visiting Tokyo. That same year it kicked off a year-long engagement at the Mirage Hotel.
The Cirque du Soliel moved into a new theater at the Treasure Island Hotel in Las Vegas in 1993, to get ready for its new show “Mystere.” The production remains there to this day.
For the 10th anniversary of Cirque in 1994, a two year tour of “Alegria” was launched.
Cirque du Soleil hit IMAX screens for the first time in 2000.
“Cirque du Soleil: Fire Within” came to television in 2003. The family series is aimed at an international audience.
Cirque du Soleil put on a pregame Superbowl performance in 2007.
In 2008, the company launched three new shows, “Zaia” at the Venetian in Macau, China, then “Zed” at the Tokyo Disney Resort in Tokyo Japan, and Criss Angel Believe at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.
This year, Cirque celebrates its 25th anniversary and launched its 25th production, “Ovo.”
This story ran in the “Do North” section July 2, 2009 issue of the Eagle-Tribune Newspaper.