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Cirque du Spokane another chance to experience the impossible

Cirque du Soleil’s show “Alegria” features 55 artists from 17 different countries.
Cirque du Soleil’s show “Alegria” features 55 artists from 17 different countries.

‘Alegria’ to entertain Inland Northwest audiences in eight shows

Trying to describe a Cirque du Soleil show to someone who has never seen one is nearly impossible.

Try describing the taste of chocolate to a person who has never tasted food.

Try describing a sunset to a person who has always lived underground.

To experience Cirque du Soleil is the only way to truly understand it.

Next week, Inland Northwest audiences will have the opportunity to experience the impossible.

Cirque du Soleil is coming to town with its touring show, “Alegria,” for eight performances at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

In a phone interview from Victoria B.C., one of the “Alegria” stops on its multi-city tour, artistic director Tim Smith attempted a description.

“What Cirque does is take the traditional circus skills – acrobats, gymnastics, trapeze, high wire – and re-create them to new heights and new skills,” he said, “and then surrounds them with theatrical spectacle: live music, amazing costumes, staging and choreography.”

Kevin Twohig, executive director of Spokane’s Public Facilities District, which operates the Arena, offered this simple and accurate explanation: “It’s a crazy person’s dream.

“Some of the things you see, you can’t believe they are happening in front of you,” he said.

Twohig and the Arena staff worked for three years to bring Cirque du Soleil back to town. The Cirque show “Delirium” played in the Arena in May 2007, but only for two days.

“Delirium” stirred the imagination of area Cirque novices. Twohig predicts they’ll line up for more. Ticket sales are good so far, he said.

Cirque shows ignite the imagination, artistic director Smith says, because they are so different from anything else offered up in our entertainment-saturated world.

“They are the only ones doing what they are doing,” he said.

Consider the “Alegria” show coming to Spokane:

• Its 55 artists hail from 17 different countries, including Russia, China, France, Italy and Spain. Twelve different languages are spoken among them.

“We scour the Earth for original artists,” Smith said. “They are one of a kind.”

Many foreign countries, he explained, still teach circus performing arts, such as trapeze.

• Artists range in age from 25 to 30. All are athletes in superb shape. Some are former Olympic contenders.

They have to be at the top of their physical game. They dangle in the air, tumble through space, twirl in metal spheres high above the ground.

Performers in Cirque shows have suffered injuries, some serious. A year ago, a Cirque performer, a Ukrainian artist in his 20s, died in Montreal from head injuries when he fell while training for a show.

• The Arena has been sized to fit the show.

Arena events average about 10,000 seats. “Alegria” audiences will number about 3,300. The smaller size is purposeful.

“They don’t try to play to 10,000 a night,” Twohig explained. “They want a certain intimacy and certain style.”

The Cirque advance team traveled to Spokane to figure out how the Arena would work for “Alegria.”

“Two months ago, they installed anchor points in the building. Anchor points are where they run cabling to systems (required) for the show,” Twohig said.

“I liken it to in the old circus days, when they’d have to rig the high wire to points on the ground. Cirque has high elements, and those require special rigging points.”

And so, if it’s nearly impossible to explain Cirque du Soleil, how do you begin describing specific shows? What exactly is Alegria about?

Smith said: “The world that has been set up is the struggle between the older generation and the youth of today – how they interact with one another, how they sometimes collide and that struggle for power. At the end, we all have to find peace.”

But don’t get too caught up on the story line, he advised.

“Cirque loosely lays a story line out there,” he said. “However, they give you an opportunity to create in your mind what the show is about.

“Come with your imagination. You will be not disappointed.”