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Flights of wonder

Masks are ready to be worn by performers.

Performers get in some last-minute practice before taking the stage Wednesday night for the first of five days worth of shows of Cirque du Soleil’s `Alegria.’ The shows run daily through Sunday.

CLARK VAN ORDEN/THE TIMES LEADER

Tyler Block, from California, practices on the ring before Wednesday night’s performance of Cirque du Soleil’s `Alegria.’ The part-circus, part-gymnastics spectacle is at the Wachovia Arena through Sunday.

CLARK VAN ORDEN/THE TIMES LEADER

WILKES-BARRE TWP. – With six hours to go before more than 3,000 eyes would be gazed upon them, performers in Cirque du Soleil’s “Alegria” stretched, flipped and bent in ways that would make pretzels jealous.

In a practice area behind the stage, performers loosened up. Russians, Mongolians, Aussies and Americans shared the mats. Conversations were taking place in several languages and some cast and crew members spoke with an excitement and enthusiasm as if they were about to take the stage for the first time.

“It’s like working at the United Nations,” joked artistic director Brooke Webb, who said the 56 performers hail from 22 countries.

Many have gymnastic backgrounds and some are past world champions. Their skills allow them to draw “oohs and ahhs” from crowds in cities around the world. On Wednesday night, their touring troupe took to the township of Wilkes-Barre.

“You come and perform and get paid. You travel the world. It’s pretty much the best job in the world,” said Trudy McIntosh, who made the 2000 Australian Olympic gymnastics team. The 24-year-old trampoline artist portrays a nymph, which serve as guardians in the hall of Alegria.

Though the characters have roles, there isn’t as much of a storyline as there is “a concept,” according to Webb.

She said the show’s name “Alegria” is the Spanish word for happiness, joy and jubilation, and that’s what she expects show-goers will feel, not only as they watch they show, but afterwards, too.

“The energy and the action, people really do leave with the weight or the world off their shoulders,” Webb said.

McIntosh said the concept of the show is a battle between old and young; new ideas rising up to nudge out the old ways. It can be interpreted in many ways, from generational views on technology, politics, religion, power and more. But don’t let those deep ideas get in the way of what’s really deep down a good visual show.

The gymnastics, pomp and circumstance portray the battle as a band plays on a stage that’s partially an elongated trampoline. While other Cirque shows use technology and other mechanical aids, “Alegria” sticks to old-fashioned “Big Top Circus” routines.

“There’s something to be said for the old traditional circus acts,” said Webb, who like McIntosh, is a native of Australia. “The simplicity makes it strong.”

Webb has been a part of four different Cirque du Soleil shows, including “Saltimbanco,” which made a stop at the Wachovia Arena two years ago. She said “Alegria” is her favorite.

Originally conceived and rolled out as an actual under-the-Big Top-show in 1994, the show was reinvented for arenas for this summer’s tour.

Webb said the new look gets viewers and performers much closer and the electricity and vibe is more obvious on this tour. Even though the crowds are about half the size as those the Big Top tours drew, McIntosh said these arena performances are “a bit more personal” and the performers can be energized by the close proximity.

Other than the clowns – it wouldn’t be a Cirque du Soleil show without them – this manifestation bears little resemblance to your father’s circus.

The pageantry and exhibited skills are typical Cirque du Soleil from elaborate masks and costumes to hand balancing and synchronized trapeze displays.

The show is, quite literally, a sight to see.

If You Go

What: Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Alegria’

Where: Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza, 255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Township

When: Performing at 7:30 p.m. today; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available for all shows.

For More Info: Call 800-745-3000

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