Of course it's spectacular. We probably have a right to expect that from a show featuring dozens of highly trained acrobats and aerialists leaping about on trapezes, trampolines and springboards. In emotional impact, though, this production by the worldwide name-brand troupe fell somewhere between the two others I'd seen them stage here.
The first, Quidam (here in 2002), followed a young girl leaving her boring home. It wasn't much of a story, but it gave a shape -- a sense of purpose -- to the amalgam of otherwise unconnected acts, the fantastical costumes, the showy but well-crafted music.
Varekai, here in 2005, boasted feats similarly artful and thrilling. But the show spent so much time trying to suggest that it had a narrative that the absence of one was a distraction.
Alegría, by contrast, merely has a theme, and it's so ephemeral you can ignore it at the cost of only a little confusion. It's announced when the show's set, with enough rigging for a pirate ship, is taken over by a company of comic grotesques wearing some version of 17th-century aristocratic finery. Pompous and beribboned, long-nosed, haunches bulging beneath costumes, they seem to represent one side of the show's stated themes: "power versus weakness, the king versus his jesters, and age against youth."
But the mincing and disdainful "oldsters" are quickly and rather definitely sidelined in favor of what we came to the Petersen Events Center to see. A solo trapeze dance. A couple dozen acrobats (or so it seemed) bounding and bouncing across the stage in an intricate choreography. Two dudes twirling flaming batons. A contortionist pair making human origami.
As always, one is agog at the precision this all takes. The Russian Bars act, for instance, features two acrobats perched on long bars like flexible balance beams, both ends of each supported by one of two "catchers." First, you're amazed that the acrobats -- after each 10-foot toss upward and multiple somersault -- can land on the bar. Then you note that it's the catchers who are minutely repositioning the bar to within a quarter-inch or so of each acrobat's landing point.
Alegría is not all airborne. There's also some fine clowning, in particular a sequence where a wistful fellow, miming a sad farewell before a long steamship journey, manages to create an entirely separate character out of just his left hand and an old overcoat. What the snowstorm that closed the scene had to do with it, I wasn't sure, but it looked cool.
Another favorite moment came courtesy of the matched clowns who embodied all the qualities a certain kind of clown does: rude, anarchic, by turns contentious and conspiratorial. In short, both childish and childlike. In one of their several scenes, they fought with, and over, paper airplanes. When one stomped the other's aircraft with a big shoe, I laughed – but not as hard as did the little kid in the upper level, whose evil giggle confirmed the clowns had nailed it.
Except for the unsurprising fact that most of the performers are quite youthful, it's hard to see that the whole "age against youth" theme amounted to much. But then, if you're not going to make something of a story (as Quidam seemed to effortlessly do), why let the story get in the way? Audiences, perhaps, agree: Alegría, which premiered in 1994, is the longest-running of the quarter-century-old troupe's many shows.
Alegría continues with five more shows through Sun., Oct. 11.