Cirque du Soleil: Alegría
Columbia/Tri-Star // Unrated // $27.94 // October 7, 2003
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted October 2, 2003
M O V I E
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version

The Program

Cirque du Soleil has pretty much established itself as the premier traveling circus in the Western world, and with good reason at that. The Montreal-based organization brings together some of the finest physical performers in the world, divides their shows into different themes, and paints the entire surroundings with a veneer of theatrical artistry, music, production values and showmanship. They cull styles and influences from around the world, often using themes from Africa, Asia, Europe, and beyond. This lends the entire affair an aura of charm and magic that resonates strongly with International audiences. The fact that their entire troupe is composed of human beings and has never ever used animals for entertainment gives them credibility as a "socially responsible" organization.

Cirque du Soleil spreads their unique brand of performance art through three resident acts (La Nouba at Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney, O at The Bellagio in Las Vegas, Mystere at Treasure Island in Las Vegas) and five touring acts (Saltimbanco, Quidam, Dralion, Varekai, and Alegría). Each show is developed around a theme, and in Alegría the represented theme is power, or the transition of power throughout the eons and how it affects the common man. Or that's what they say, anyhow. In the end it's all about the acts, and Alegría is replete with clowns, dancers, contortionists, gymnasts, fire dancers, singers, and the same guy who flies around the stage hoisted by what seems to be two giant elastic strips.

Cirque du Soleil: Alegría certainly seems to be a worthwhile chapter of the entire Cirque du Soleil "saga". The acts are extraordinary, the music is trippy and mood enhancing, and the set designs and production values are nothing less than top-notch. But like any dynamic live performance, a home video reproduction simply cannot do justice to it. One of the most remarkable aspects of any Cirque du Soleil performance isn't just looking at what's going on center stage; there's many other things going on as well that tempt the eye and bend the ear. The frenetic, quick-cut editing of the video doesn't help either. The editor wasn't content on letting the camera linger on any one activity, allowing the grace and fluidity of the scene sink in, but rather chopped up the presentation to allow the scene to be covered from a variety of angles and viewpoints. This hurts the presentation, and ultimately leaves the viewer at home somewhat less impressed by the entire performance.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy Cirque du Soleil: Alegría, but I would have preferred it greatly if they stuck to a few great vantage points rather than trying to cover two dozen of them with varying degrees of success.

The DVD

Video:

It would be complete and utter blasphemy if they ever tried to present this show in a full-frame aspect ratio. Luckily, we don't have to concern ourselves with that possibility, as the video is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen viewing giddiness. The overall quality is pretty solid. Colors are extraordinarily vivid and lush, although there is a tad too much bleeding and oversaturation throughout. Image detail is mostly sharp and well handled, although more than a few shots betray a little softness. The transfer also seemed a little noisy at times, with some pixelation and haloing around light sources. However, despite these flaws the transfer is fairly pleasant to behold.

Audio:

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and provides for an excellent six-channel presentation. Surround channels are used often and aggressively to enhance the "performance theater" experience, showcasing effective echo and reverb as well as playing up the audience response factor (cheers, claps, laughter, etc.) The musical score sound bright and sports fine fidelity and range. The overall effect is quite enjoyable and definitely provides for a more enveloping stage experience.

Extras:

There are some fairly interesting extras included on this DVD. First off is A Look Behind the Scenes, which is actually comprised of two featurettes. The first, Filming Alegría: A Featurette, runs thirteen minutes and provides a backstage look at the filming of the show. The second, A Journey to Alegría: A Special runs thirty-three minutes and goes behind-the-scenes to look at the acts and performers from Alegría, interviewing the cast and looking into their extensive preparation and practice sessions. Both are extremely worthwhile, although the second is admittedly more fun to watch. Especially any time Elena Lev is onscreen.

A Different Perspective is a nearly six-minute slow-motion montage highlighting clips from the show. Meet the Artists is sort of a "cast and crew" breakdown of the performers, except that the performers provide a short video clip introducing themselves, their act, and their background. Multi-Angle Performances allows you to view two acts (the "Fast Track" and "Aerial High Bar") from multiple angles by using the "ANGLE" button on your remote.

Finally, Music Promo is a brief commercial for the various Cirque du Soleil albums and CDs.

Final Thoughts

I've seen La Nouba and Dralion live, and found them both to be extremely captivating and exciting beyond words. I have also seen both performances on DVD, and they left me a little dry. Not because they were bad, mind you, but only because they lacked that certain element, that kinetic spark, that magic that can only be experienced through a live performance. However, if the tour hasn't reached your town yet, the DVDs are the next best thing. In that regard, Cirque du Soleil: Alegría certainly provides an hour-and-a-half's worth of thrills and excitement. I had my issues with the editing style and some flaws in the video, but overall the DVD provides for a reasonably exciting experience. The supplemental material is also fairly satisfying; there is over an hour's worth of extra features on this disc. I definitely recommend this DVD to Cirque du Soleil fans, but know what you're getting into before your purchase the disc. There's just no way you can replicate the show's excitement on TV. Casual fans or the curious might want to give the disc a rental first.



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