Cirque exceeds expectations

“Know thyself” is the intellectual battle cry that separates us from animals. Like a fistful of sand, the tighter we try to grasp ourselves, the more we often miss.

I already understood this before going to Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria last week. However, between death-defying stunts and avant-garde clown vignettes I found that understanding myself is not about what I know, it’s how I get there.

At first I had second thoughts: “Is it worth rushing through traffic after a long week of bookish obsession to watch a troupe of ultra-built French-Canadians flying through a Martha Stewart-like ambience while they’re probably sneering at my American fat?”

They’re jealous, I told myself. Besides, they’re here to make a buck like everyone else.

I was charmed by the production, if only because it’s so unlike anything I usually attend.

Although Cirque du Soleil has a Disney-esque feel because of its success, the Franco-Canadian concepts are vastly fresher than your average carnie production. Alegria’s visual style is like a cross between Salvador Dali and some ’80s fantasy movie.

Throughout the performance, choreographed dandies prance from task to task with painted, mime-like faces. Something about the Cirque’s assumed gravity, matched with its unabashed ostentation, pushed my imagination to a celebratory metaphor.

Underneath Alegria’s stunts is a plot that most audiences don’t get. In reality, the plot is more of a guideline for production ideas.

In any creative project, it’s almost necessary for an artist to have some order of inspiration. Throughout the show, I wondered if there was more I wasn’t getting.

Something was missing. I felt so feeble while watching this gaudy-yet-noble enterprise of physical and intellectual acrobatics, especially since two hours earlier I was a drone pulling out my hair because of traffic.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, and I felt like one of the clowns — the most ridiculous one, because I forgot I was part of the joke. The joke was my stubbornness.

To me, the beauty of the acrobatics not only defied gravity, but every other mundane detail that drags people down everyday.

This is just a circus, right? The point is to be entertained. Indeed, there are many people who believe that art and entertainment are quite separate from the practical utility of everyday life.

To me, art is like sleep; it exists for a reason.

In sleep, our bodies rest, and our brains confront subconscious phenomena like flying through the air and clowns that somehow seem existential. Our everyday utilities are so dangerous because they let us forget why we’re doing them in the first place.

Cirque du Soleil proves that sometimes it’s necessary to forget about what we “know” in order to find the significance of that knowledge.

I thought the show was going to waste my time, but I’m not so jaded to believe that arrogance is an adequate substitute for new experiences.

Music editor Harold Valentine can be reached at