Friday, 29 November 2013

At last I feel ‘Christmassy’!

When Christmas cards appeared in my favourite card shop at the end of August my reaction was ‘Bah Humbug’! Close family members have birthdays in December and unless I buy their cards months early, choice becomes limited. 

When they started playing the same old tired Christmas songs in every shop at the beginning of November, I silently screamed ‘No! Please, not again!’ Shelves in food stores have been piled high for weeks with mince pies, Christmas cakes, chocolate goodies and all the usual temptations. Not a good idea to ‘stock up’ for Christmas so early – if I buy them now I’ll eat them now then have to buy more. Of course! That’s their cunning plan!

So why do I suddenly feel Christmassy? Because I spent the afternoon in Liverpool city centre, that’s why. First, it was coffee and cake followed by a glass of wine with friends at  to celebrate the safe arrival of my third beautiful granddaughter. By the time we left, it was going dusk. Christmas lights twinkled. The Christmas market was buzzing, tempting my purse and my palate. And those two, huge reindeer in Liverpool 1 – an amazing sight. Not enough time to see everything so I’ll be back in a couple of days.  Now I’m in the mood for Christmas. Tomorrow I’m off to the shops to buy mince pies, Christmas cake and anything else that takes my fancy – and yes, I’ll probably eat them long before December 25th. Then I’m going to start writing my cards and wrapping presents. ‘So here it is, Merry Christmas’ – bring it on!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cirque du Soleil – Alegría

Translated from the Spanish, Alegría means ‘happiness, joy and jubilation’ and these were all in evidence at the Echo Arena on Sunday, 3rd November. The performance space, half its normal size, had been transformed into a dark, autumnal, fairytale setting and for two hours on a cold, blustery Sunday afternoon, the audience were transported into a magical world of colour, music and movement.

We were still settling in our seats, children dipping into bags of sweets, adults of all ages checking mobile phones (have we lost the knack of concentrating on the present moment?), and it took a moment or two to register that a clown had shambled into the arena. A word of warning to all potential audience members – if you don’t want to find yourself taking part in a performance, then don’t sit near the stage! The laughter that followed settled everyone down and we sat back to enjoy the show. I was relieved when the audience were given a stern warning not to use mobile devices or cameras during the show, even without flash, as these could prove dangerous to the performers, but this didn’t deter someone sitting a couple of rows in front of us from videoing part of the show on his phone. Fortunately, vigilant arena staff were on the spot in seconds, and the device was swiftly switched off!

The show consisted of 55 performers and musicians of twenty nationalities. The set was designed by Michel Crete, costumes by Dominique Lemieux with the soundtrack by Rene Dupré. But these are mere facts, what these people created for us was a stunning visual and aural spectacle that set the nerves tingling and the pulses throbbing.

I have to admit that I’ve never been fond of clowns, their slapstick comedy routines usually leave me cold, but this show certainly changed my opinion – I never knew you could have so much fun with paper planes! The routines involving unsuspecting members of the audience were so hilarious I did wonder if they were ‘plants’ – if they weren’t then congratulations are in order. And the ‘pantomime’ horse may be a cliché, but it still made me hoarse with laughter (pun intended!). I did find one of the characters appearing between acts rather grotesque; not being able to follow the intended theme of the show (should have bought a programme) I wasn’t sure what he represented. Dressed in black and red, short, with impossibly bent legs, a huge belly that wobbled and an enormous hump on his back, he was the stuff of nightmares – did he represent ‘chaos’? Every time I saw his painfully twisted body strut around the stage I worried that his act would leave him permanently injured.

We needed the clowns’ routines to give us some light relief between the breathtaking acts otherwise the excitement might have been too much for some of us older members of the audience! The mesmerising Fire Knife Dancers, twirling their batons of fire, should have come with a warning, ‘Children, do not attempt this at home’. Seeing them set a section of the stage alight was another reason I was glad not to be sitting at the front, even though I knew it was quite safe.

Acrobats performed incredible feats on The Russian Bars, somersaulting high in the air and landing on narrow planks supported on the shoulders of their catchers. While watching the performers you also have to appreciate the phenomenal body strength and perfect timing of these catchers. The audience were spellbound by The Mongolian Body Twisters; by performers on metal spinning rings; and especially by a contortionist – there were times when I couldn’t make out the individual parts of her body as she twisted it into shapes that seemed physically impossible. I found myself wondering how she gets out of bed in the morning. Feet first? Head first? Stomach first? Not slowly, with creaking joints like me, that’s for sure.

The female vocalist and the excellent musicians linked and accompanied all the acts perfectly. Sometimes, there was so much going on, so many people on stage, so much colour, noise and movement it was almost hypnotic.

It seemed all too soon before it was time for the Finale. And what a Finale it was! We watched, holding our collective breath, as the acrobats, two at a time, climbed swaying ladders until they stood on a platform 40 feet above the arena. What followed was an awe-inspiring spectacle of high-wire acrobatics. With two catchers suspended on swings below the platform there was an ever-changing movement of bodies flying through the air, swinging, catching, being caught, at death-defying, incredible speed. It was like watching a kaleidoscope, the pattern changing constantly. I marvelled at the complete trust members of the troupe must have in one another. And the fact that for the Finale a net had been suspended beneath the performers in no way detracted from their skill and bravery as they each jumped 40 feet into the net at the end of the act.

Performance over, it was a shock to emerge, blinking, into the bleak daylight of a late autumn day, our eyes still filled with colour and movement, our ears ringing with music, bodies still vibrating with the thrumming of drums. A truly wonderful show, spectacular in the true sense of the word; a show to recall and wonder at in the dull days of winter.

Thank you Alegría, and thank you Echo Arena, for a memorable afternoon. We’re now looking forward to André Rieu’s concert in December.