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Pablo Gomis and Pablo Bermejo during their performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Anne-Marie Forker
The pair who bring Spanish joy to Cirque du Soleil
Entertainment

The pair who bring Spanish joy to Cirque du Soleil

Pablo Bermejo and Pablo Gomis add their clowning magic to the world-famous company's most famous production, currently showing in London then in Malaga from 31 May

Regina Sotorrío

Malaga

Friday, 23 February 2024

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They are clowns through and through, although they do not sport the typical red nose or clown costume. They look more like a couple of aristocrats who are "down on their luck" as they put it. Without doing a single somersault, this Spanish-born duo transport the audience of Alegría - Cirque du Soleil's most famous international production and a title which means joy in Spanish - into their world of fun.

Before transforming into Gomino and Bermejino, Pablo Gomis (born in Alicante in 1977) and Pablo Bermejo (Murcia, 1976) welcome us with a big smile to the stalls of the Royal Albert Hall in London, the stop prior to the Spanish leg of the tour that will bring them to Malaga from 31 May to 30 June. There are two and a half hours until curtain up, but there's another spectacle brewing backstage in this historic venue. As we are chatting with the Pablos, one acrobat rehearses with the hoop on stage and another warms up on the treadmill in the artists' room. In the adjacent room, the wardrobe team gets ready all the costumes that will be worn tonight. The wheels of the Cirque du Soleil never stop turning.

With drumbeats in the background, the artist performs a traditional Samoan dance with fire bars.
With drumbeats in the background, the artist performs a traditional Samoan dance with fire bars. Anne-Marie Forker

The Pablos will soon begin their transformation: they spend up to 40 minutes applying their make-up and putting on their made-to-measure, digitally printed suits. When you see them in action, you will understand why.

They have been friends since student days at the drama school in Murcia. Both have been with Cirque du Soleil for more than a decade, Gomis with the company the longest (since 2007). They acknowledge that being part of the Soleil family requires sacrifice, especially in their personal lives. Still, the advantages are unquestionable: it allows them to "see the world" and, above all, live with dignity from their art.

"We come from Spain!" they exclaim as they share a knowing smile with the press. "Here they feed you well, they pay well and they also give us massages," they joke, alluding to the team of physiotherapists and masseuses that accompanies the artists. They know that back home, where for years they were part of the Les Buffons company with their teacher Antón Valén, life "is much more difficult artistically".

They are acrobats of the humorous word. Their gags are subtly clever - no instant laughter here. They are one of the few acts in the cast to come from the old Alegría show: "But all our numbers have been created from scratch". All except one, which has now become a classic turn for these clowns: a spectacular snowstorm that envelops the auditorium in shredded paper.

Two singers perform the soundtrack of Alegría with lyrics in English, French, Italian, Spanish and the invented language of Cirque du Soleil.
Two singers perform the soundtrack of Alegría with lyrics in English, French, Italian, Spanish and the invented language of Cirque du Soleil. Anne-Marie Forker

They really do represent the philosophy behind this new version of Alegría: In a New Light - a revamped, modernised show that loses none of its original essence. In 2019, six years after saying goodbye to Alegría, Cirque du Soleil decided to bring back what had been the company's flagship and best-known show, and which had toured for 19 consecutive years.

First though, it needed an update as they had to adapt a concept from the 90s for a new generation Alegría: In a New Light stirs the emotions with a spectacular backdrop of a huge golden crown with 120 spires and 64 branches, a rotating stage and fantasy-style scenery, acts that make the audience hold their breath, plus live music with more rock and electronic than ever before. Not forgetting, of course, the company's hit track, the Alegría song, which has accumulated more than 30 million listens on Spotify. The soundtrack, once nominated for a Grammy, has been revamped with a contemporary arrangement and is played on the accordion by young Galician musician Sara Formosa.

Ten acrobats on stage performing incredible leaps to reach the hands of their companions on the other side, ten metres above the ground.
Ten acrobats on stage performing incredible leaps to reach the hands of their companions on the other side, ten metres above the ground. Anne-Marie Forker

Thirteen years later, Alegría will appear again in Malaga and this time it brings the show closer to the audience with all the intimacy of the touring company's big top tent. In 2011 it was held at the Martín Carpena sports arena. The Big Top as it's known in English, or the Grand Chapiteau in French, will be erected at the city's feria ground for the month of live shows. A total of 85 trucks will transport Cirque du Soleil's travelling village to Malaga, bringing more than a hundred-strong team of people, including performers (64 from 19 countries, 14 languages), technical crew, wardrobe (6), physiotherapists (3), a Pilates teacher, a masseuse and even four cooks. All will stay in hotels or apartments in the area for the five weeks, making Malaga their temporary home.

A unique case

The location in London, as the first stop on the updated, European tour of Alegría, is rather unique. Here the backstage is not spread out under canvas, instead every last inch of the historic Royal Albert Hall is being used: there are masks and props in the corridors, and a practice space on the fifth floor that the acrobats must reach on foot to warm up before going on stage. "During the show, they are banned from using the lift... just in case," says one of the team. It's not worth the risk in a 150-year-old building with so much history. The building is unique in its construction, being circular in shape, and which has been adapted to the times thanks to Cirque du Soleil. The company has pushed for technological improvements to bring its productions to life. The reason? This legendary concert hall has hosted pretty much everyone who is famous, from the Beatles to Adele, but it is also the official headquarters of Cirque du Soleil in London, being the only place close to the city where it is feasible to put on this style of show. Almost 5,000 people per day will watch the show there every night for two months. Then, on to Spain, specifically Barcelona, Malaga, Seville, Alicante and Madrid.

What exactly happens under this Big Top (2,500 audience capacity)? Magic happens. Alegría tells the tale of the eternal battle between the old order and a new era rising up. Little time to take a breather as each number follows in rapid succession. All the acts are increasingly more sophisticated in their execution while retaining that element of risk intrinsic to Cirque du Soleil. There are acrobatic bars with jumps impossible for mere mortals and a wheel where an acrobat spins elegantly making movements look so simple while flouting the laws of physics. The synchronised trapeze duo's number is beautiful, almost poetic, then the impressive fire dance where the artist guides the flame with his own hands. Only Cirque du Soleil can create an explosive show in the 19th-century Royal Albert Hall without any mishaps.

Still there is so much more: an artist capable of mastering a multitude of hula hoops at the same time as contorting her body, fourteen acrobats who criss-cross the stage doing somersaults and two contortionists, who together build beautiful images with their bodies. For the finale, Alegría delivers its master stroke: a flying trapeze ten metres high that requires a safety net. Good thing too as, at one London show, one of the acrobats did not grab his partner's hands in time, but the net caught his fall - a lifesaver. The audience applauded him more than if he had achieved the feat. So it turns out that, although it may not seem like it, they are human after all.

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