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The acts are great, so why is Cirque du Soleil so disappointing?

In my mind, going to the circus should transcend the marvels of fantasy. The circus is at once an opportunity to be dazzled by the talents of circus performers and a chance to be inspired to refocus one’s own artistic energy.

If done correctly, these clowns and high wire walkers should ensnare our spirits and conjure us onto the stage, sucking us into their world, luring us to escape with them ñ after all, where was it that overly imaginative children always planned to run away to? Wasn’t it the circus?

The circus has always been something like a magic show, and I expect to be amazed by fearsome and amazing feats of strength, physical precision and acts that I would presume to be impossible. However, when a show promises “an integration of theatre and circus through new forms of expression,” as proposed by Cirque du Soleil director Franco Dragone, my childlike enthusiasm is thwarted when it doesn’t live up to these claims.

Alas, this is the case with Alegria, the company’s latest touring production to set up a tent near the Mississippi. (It must be noted, however, that the opening night audience gave an excessively enthusiastic ovation and followed it with a dozen or so curtain calls).

Some of Alegria’s acts are standard circus fare, and done well. An act titled “The Fast Track” demonstrates a troupe of gymnasts’ skill at twirling into the air after tumbling along hidden trampolines. A leather-clad strongman named Ginaud Dupuis shows off his unparalleled strength: He bends steel bars, huffing angrily, and lifts a stack of performers on his back.

Most alluring, two young ladies (Chimed Ulziibayar and Chimed Ulziijargal) contort into ever-changing positions, fluidly transforming their bodies while one perches atop other.

These acts are solid, but the show’s theatrics fall short. Gaudy costumes, new age music, and uninspired dance routines unnecessarily fill the interstitial moments between circus acts, seeming to serve no purpose but to flesh out the production. Instead, these frills do more to compromise the show’s integrity. If Alegria focused more on circus vignettes and left out ostentatious theatrics, lame choreography and sad clown acts, we would have a much shorter and tighter performance.

The outrageous baroque costumes, music, and dance ñ all quite usual for a Cirque du Soleil production – strive to match the mood of the title; Alegria is a Spanish word for jubilation. However, you may not be too jubilant after paying full price to see this show. At $40.50-$58.50 for students (hardly a discount from the $45-$65 regular prices), I must examine the exchange value from dollar to entertainment. The Los Angeles Times reported “incredible athleticism and pure showmanship that rivals anything anywhere.”

Have they seen UniverSoul Circus? It astounded Minneapolitans just two years ago during the same season of Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion (their last appearance in the Twin Cities). Having paid $8 (the “expensive” ticket price, costing $2 more than the general admission price), I witnessed harrowing physical feats, skilled clowning and a stilt-walking black Jesus who wandered the stage in a closing tableau, healing the sick. Unfortunately, The UniverSoul Circus is skipping over Minneapolis on this year’s “Platinum Soul” tour. However, several other well-deserving circuses will be gracing the Twin Cities in weeks to come, including the puppet- and mask-making Circus Contraption, which will grace the stage of the In the Heart of the Beast theater midway through next month.

So, if inexpensive but extraordinary circuses appeal to you, you’ll have to find it somewhere other than the white big-top on the riverfront. However, if artsy, self-indulgent, vaguely-French quasi-circuses are your thing, then by all means, indulge. It’s your money.

Alegria plays through September 15 at the Mississippi Riverfront (2nd Street S and 10th Ave S in Downtown Minneapolis), 1-800-678-5540.

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