What started in the early 80s as a loose-knit collection of street performers has turned into a multimillion-dollar international enterprise; but in its last Chicago engagement, the 1993 run of Saltimbanco, Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil showed no sign of corporate–or corporal–sluggishness. That production boasted the same brilliance, energy, and youthful invention that dazzled in the troupe’s 1989 and 1991 appearances; and memories of those shows whet the appetite for next week’s opening of Alegria (a Spanish word meaning joy). The Cirque du Soleil formula combines traditional circus elements (including a festively colored big top and an array of risk-taking, beautifully built acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, tumblers, etc.) with pop-concert light and sound displays, audience-interactive clown improvisation, and a loose-knit but identifiable cast of characters. Outlandishly yet exquisitely costumed in a sort of rock ‘n’ roll Renaissance style that suggests the films of Fellini, they give a strong enough sense of thematic unity (“power and transformation” is this year’s hook) to qualify the show as stimulating, stylized performance art as well as crowd-pleasing spectacle–family entertainment in the very best sense, at once imaginative and visceral. Cityfront Center, 400 N. McClurg, 527-5168 or 559-1212. Opens Wednesday, July 26, 7 PM. Then Thursday, July 27, 7:30 PM. (See performance listing for shows through August 27.)

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Al Seib.