first_imgAdvertisement Running off to join the circus sounds like avenue of the carefree, what one would do instead of, say, getting a 9-5 job. But after an hour backstage at Cirque du Soleil’s touring arena production of Corteo, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who works harder to create something that feels and looks so magically effortless.Hours before the curtain is scheduled to rise, the arena is abuzz with activity. A giant teeter-totter sits in the middle of the stage and a team of strong young men take turns leaping on and off of it, higher and higher in the air. The rehearsal playlist includes “Champagne Supernova” and, appropriately enough, “Jump.” Backstage, a performer works out some choreography with her spotter. A six-foot tall chandelier made of steel and decked out with sturdy acrylic beads sits in the corner. A very muscular shirtless gentleman warms up by lifting weights. A young woman casually juggles bowling pins next to a pair of beds that are actually trampolines.When the muscular gentleman starts to spin around the stage in a giant metal hoop (the Cyr wheel, more about that in a minute), it strikes me that it’s almost more impressive to see such physical feats performed outside of the magical bubble of the show. These are real people in warm-up clothes, leaping, spinning, flipping, twisting to the very edges of physical possibility. Login/Register With: A member of Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo show performs on the high bar during practice for the show at Toronto’s Scotia Bank Centre. PETER J THOMPSON/NATIONAL POSTTiming is Everything“I was originally a trampolinist…so I could already do a lot of the flips and flying through the air,” says Harvey Donnelly, one of the acrobats featured in the teeterboard act. “The next thing to learn is how do you get those flips onto that piece of apparatus. And that’s the hardest thing is learning the timing of the teeterboard and learning how to jump off at the right time, and how to land back on.”Spinning and FallingThe Cyr Wheel is a steel circle large enough to frame a human body spread-eagled like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. It’s named after Canadian circus performer Daniel Cyr, who is credited with reinventing it for the circus. Performers frame themselves in the circle and roll around the stage, sometimes at a leisurely pace, sometimes at a manic spin. It’s dizzying to watch, much less to be in.Donnelly joined Cirque du Soleil on the strength of his trampolining skills. It was only after he was hired that he learned how to use the Cyr Wheel. “I’m not going to lie, that is a lot of spinning and falling, spinning and falling,” he says. “I thought that there was some secret potion, some trick, but there’s not, there’s just getting it, spin until you know how to keep spinning and then once you work out the timing, you got it.”As for how many weeks of spinning and falling before he got it, Harvey is modest. “The truth is, if you ask any circus performer how long it took them to ‘get it’, the first thing you think is ‘I’m still trying to get it!’ But really to get a comfortable spin and not fall on my bum, it took me about six weeks.” A performer uses a hoop during practice for the show. PETER J THOMPSON/NATIONAL POSTThe CostumeWhile Donnelly is spinning (not falling, at least not on my watch) onstage, Catherine Duval, the assistant head of wardrobe, is backstage mending tears, replacing buttons and generally making sure the hundreds of costumes in her charge are clean and – more importantly – safe for the performers to wear each night. The costumes evolve when new cast members join and develop their performance. “After training you can feel how the costume lives,” says Duval. “It always depends what is the act onstage, but for us here it’s important that everybody be comfortable and safe – we need to check all the costumes each day to make sure they have no holes, or missing buttons.”Duval and her team are also on hand as dressers for the cast. “We zip, unzip, untie – everything,” she says. “There are some quick changes…we have the grand angels at the end, and when they come out of the stage, there are big wings and we need to unclip, undress and it’s really quick. It’s not stressful, but it’s a really quick one – we need to be on time.”Suspended pole performer Stephanie Ortega of France practices. PETER J THOMPSON/NATIONAL POSTThe Lights“About once a week, we will rehearse our teeterboard in our show lights,” says Donnelly. “We prefer not to be in our show lights, simply because it’s so hot. In the show you’ll watch us to a six or seven minute full acrobatic act in a jam-packed arena under the lights, and by the time we come offstage we’re dripping with sweat!”The stage lights may make the acrobats sweat, but they’re also obviously a key part of the magical transition. The chandeliers, for example, are made of steel and dripping with clear acrylic beads that the acrobats dangle from. Backstage, one of them sits on the ground, at least four feet in girth and almost six in height. The steel looks firm and strong, and the beads are sturdy – but from out in the audience, the lights transform acrylic and steel into sparkling crystal and brass.Juggler Johan Jusslin of Finland. PETER J THOMPSON/NATIONAL POSTThe Moment Before“I’m in a team of five guys, so we’re always warming up together,” says Donnelly. “Minutes before we hit the stage we’ll talk through our act, so we walk and talk our way through it. We stretch, warm up, usually joking. But we’ll always take a minute or two of silence to go through everything in our heads. But really the best way I can describe it is, the moment you hit the stage it’s like, have you ever dived into a cold pool? You know the moment your feet leave the edge of the pool but you haven’t hit the water yet? When we step on stage, we’ve jumped into the cold pool.”SPECIAL TO NATIONAL POST Facebook Advertisementcenter_img LEAVE A REPLY Cancel replyLog in to leave a comment Twitter Advertisement All in a day’s work at Cirque du Soleil’s traveling production of Corteo.What comes first, the apparatus or the acrobat?Julie Dionne is one of the acrobats in the big chandelier act, and she has been with Corteo off and on since the beginning, having worked on the show’s original development in 2004. “Because our apparatus is already so dramatic, they’re huge chandeliers, so it gives a tone to the act already,” she says. “And then in creation…it was a lot of research with a new apparatus, the physical vocabulary.” Sometimes they’d come up with moves that were beautiful, but couldn’t be seen amid the lines of the chandelier. “There’s two ways – you put yourself in a good mood, the ambiance, and you find the vocabulary, or you go very technically, ‘what can I do as an acrobat and what does that express?’”last_img

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