Not clowning about: a cirque cure for coulrophobia


Cirque du Soleil has a long-standing reputation for delivering outstanding theatrical performances of a circus flavour while distinguishing itself from the tacky, hollow memories one might have from a childhood trip to the local funfair.

‘Alegría’ completely lived up to this international reputation on its opening night on February 13.

Each circus ranks its acts in a hierarchy: trapeze artists and flying men are what everyone looks forward to, while contortionists and dancers are the necessary breaks between the hype and anxiety of the big acts.

But this is completely elevated in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Alegría’. Even the simplest acts, such as ribbon dancing, were pulled off with such an exquisite grace, it was impossible not to be moved. The fire dancers were graceful rather than barbaric, the contortionists not so much freaky as entrancing.

Of course there was still that exciting build up to the finale – acrobats flinging themselves between aerial high bars – which left me wiping my sweaty palms on my trousers.

In every way the show ran with no holds barred. A comprehensive live band, along with outstanding soloists, drew the audience through the loose background story to each new act.

The artistic direction was second to none, with the baroque influence ranging from the citadel stage to the intricate make-up of the bird-faced characters. I wished I could have seen the performers’ costumes up close, but only, of course, without the risk of a clown picking me from the crowd for an embarrassing stunt – is that every audience member’s worst nightmare, or just mine?

The show’s majesty, physical dynamics and spectacular beauty were what I had heard would set Cirque du Soleil apart from the rest. And these delivered.

But what really sealed the deal for me were actually the clowns. Accustomed only to cheesy, half-baked skits from dowdy, lifeless clowns, I had always found them a little bit creepy, ever since my first circus visit as a child.

But Cirque du Soleil’s clowns broke the mould, producing sketches between each act on a par with those you might find on a late-night talk show. Despite the clearly awe-inspiring physical feats of the performers, I found myself looking forward to the next hilarious sketch after each intense act − some of which even parodied the previous acrobat’s skills.

Cirque du Soleil delivered on its promise to wow the crowd, but it also cured my fear of clowns. Bravo!

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Alegría’ will continue playing at Forum until Sunday. See page G2 in InOut for more details.