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Cirque du Soleil’s Alegría: In a New Light at the Albert Hall

If you’re hoping for a clear explanation of the plot of Alegría: In a New Light, I’m afraid you’ll need to ask someone else. My grasp is shaky: something about a king’s fool fancying himself as the new monarch, while buffoonish aristocrats and upstart ‘bandits’ (who I’m informed are called ‘The Bronx’) compete to define the future direction of the kingdom. And there are some slapstick disputes over a staff with a glowing crystal. Needless to say for anyone familiar with Cirque du Soleil’s work, and equally unnecessary to point out to anyone coming with an open mind: the storyline here comes a distant third to spectacular circus acts and enchanting music.

CDS by Anne-Marie Forker.
CDS by Anne-Marie Forker.

The original Alegría was one of Cirque du Soleil’s oldest productions, dating back to 1994, when the company was just ten years young. It is also one of their most performed, touring to hundreds of cities, with thousands of performances in front of millions of audience members.

For its twenty-fifth anniversary, the show was revamped, with new acts, music, and an updated visual design which means that Alegría: In a New Light looks and feels fresh. Even more so, now that it’s made it to London and the Royal Albert Hall. This is a venue with a special relationship to Cirque du Soleil, who make it their home for a couple of months at the start of each year with one show or other from their always-packed touring list. We don’t necessarily see the shows early in their runs, but there is something magnificently joyful in seeing the company lovingly adapt aspects of the performance to make it fit into the sheer opulence of this building. I just pity the cleaning staff who will no doubt spend the entire day after each performance removing paper ‘snow’ from every nook and cranny of the boxes / bars / toilets / corridors / foyers.

Seeing the stage alight in Falaniko Solomona Penesa’s fire knife dance, the auditorium transformed into a blizzard, and Yulia Makeeva and Alexey Turchenko’s graceful (and muscle-bound) aerial straps routine against this architectural backdrop – is breathtaking. Daria Kalinina and Halina Starevich’s hand-to-hand performance also demands a mention: two women who weave in and out of synchronisation in a way that makes me forget they are very different shapes, and then astonishes me by how much they can accomplish because they are. It feels like a magic trick in plain sight.

I find myself coming back throughout the show to the question of whether it convinces me it was worth refreshing. Arguably, Cirque du Soleil are most responsible for popularising contemporary circus, and the name still draws the most polished of performers from around the globe, and yet the acts themselves are drawn from a traditional and limited set of circus skills. This is, perhaps, inevitable. The company needs to be able to swap in performers across their tours’ long runs, so they’ll never have the excitingly unique acts you might find in scrappier companies’ shows. It would be churlish for me to deny, however, that every production Cirque du Soleil puts on is a lavish feast of visuals and music, leaving me feeling delight and awe. This is no exception.

4 stars

Review by Ben Ross

At the heart of a once-glorious kingdom that has lost its king, Alegría: In a New Light witnesses the power struggle at play between the old order and the youth in strive for hope and renewal. As the court jester clumsily tries to take the throne, a growing desire for change emerges from the street to defy the status-quo and bring joy to the world.

With its Grammy-nominated soundtrack, mesmerising acrobatics, surreal costume designs, vibrant sets, and playful humour, Alegría: In a New Light unfolds a touching immersive experience filled with a joyous magical feeling – a quintessential Cirque du Soleil spectacle suitable for all the family.

Alegría: In a New Light
Thursday 11 January – Sunday 3 March 2024

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