Stupendous Human Tricks

Here's the situation: The kingdom has no king. A court jester is temporarily running things while two generations -- a group of grotesque old birds and some younger, more progressive feathered friends -- struggle for power. Sound like real life? It's actually the story line of Alegría, the latest Cirque du Soleil production to pitch its big top downtown. Or perhaps we should say, it's one interpretation of the story line.

"If 2,500 people were in the big top," says Cirque tour manager Jerry Nadal, "and you asked them what they saw, you'd get 2,500 different answers."

Some of those answers would most definitely be theater performance art, dance and traditional circus acts. But those who consider elephants to be mandatory circus fare will have to look elsewhere; only human tricks are on display at Cirque. "It's all about what the human body can do, and how far you can push it," says Nadal.

A strongman bends iron rods. Trapeze artists whiz past each other in perfect synchronization. Contortionists stretch themselves into impossible pretzels, as if they could bend their very bones. All wear elaborate costumes and together create a magical, mysterious world where anything is possible.

Alegría is coming to Houston after a stint in Mexico City, where, according to Nadal, more than 280,000 tickets were sold. Cirque du Soleil does a huge business -- in fact, since the company was founded in 1984, almost 33 million people have seen its shows. But things weren't so easy in the beginning. Guy Laliberté, Cirque's founder, started off breathing fire in the streets of Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec.

Now, with eight shows traveling around the world, Cirque du Soleil is always looking for new talent. For audition dates, check Cirque's Web site. But wait until you get a call back before packing your knapsack. "The majority of our performers are world-class athletes," says Nadal. "That whole running-away-to-join-the-circus thing has changed."

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Cathy Matusow
Contact: Cathy Matusow