Thursday, January 25, 2007

Death to clowns!

To the Royal Albert Hall for Cirque du Soleil's feast of over-calculated whimsy and back-breaking acrobatics, Alegrìa. Or, given the quality of so much of the performance, Generìa.

Cirque are generally considered the world's pre-eminent troupe of bendy women, purple-haired men and galloping dwarves, but on the evidence of Alegrìa, I am at a loss as to why this is.

Yes, the acrobatics were spectacular. I'm much more cocktail bars than Russian bars, so the balance and skill of the acrobats hurling themselves along a rubbery length six inches across was suitably impressive. And when later that evening I tried to contort myself as the flexible women had, well, let's just say in future back and front are going to stay where they should. But even their airborne gyrations were nothing you can't see in any professional troupe - they lacked originality, supposedly Cirque's forte.

I can really see the point of acrobats. They have so much to say about the capability of the human body and grace and wonder; they are physical poets.

But clowns? These one-trick charlatans wore thin their welcome quickly. Gags about pretend motor cycles and miniature airplanes have neither originality nor humour to commend them. The only time the clowns made me laugh was when they hauled an audience member on stage, to make him participate; they're so bad they need someone else to make them funny. There was a particularly bizarre scene involving a paper-snow storm and a train set which made little sense and less laughter.

What made the evening truly unbearable was the music. I say music, but it was rather like aggressive musak, background tunes with a woman being murdered while trying to hold a tune. Multi-cultural music is good; world music is eye-opening. This was neither. It was a series of stereotypes of what various countries' musical styles should sound like. There was a deep southern jazz beat, some French-style wailing, some Italian-style wailing, some more jazz beats and some more wailing.

The crowning nonsense was the lyrics to the dirges: these were in a dialect known as 'Circlish', which is a meaningless hum of various foreign phrases jammed together.

I understand that the point of the 'world' music, the Circlish, the acrobatics, the wordless clowns is to embrace the whole world. All can understand music and movement and incomprehensible lyrics. But instead of global inclusiveness, we get generic ethnic stew.

So after an ass-numbing two hours, with little innovation, less humour and minimal music quality, I will not be returning for any more false awe at Cirque's big ring.

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