Aug 31

A behind-the-scenes look at Cirque du Soleil’s seamless opening Wednesday night

By: Isabel Hughes

Published: August 30, 2018

Taylor Rice’s pigtails bounced as she jumped on one of two beds set up in the middle of Cirque du Soleil’s stage, her pajamas matching the bows in her hair.

Throwing pillows at her fellow artists — Cirque du Soleil acrobats and performers are called ‘artists’ — the scene was a childish one, filled with flips and tricks and butt-slapping on the trampoline beds.

To Corteo’s audience, the act looked carefree and almost unrehearsed, as if the acrobats were real children just enjoying a romp on the bed.

But the artists knew better, having spent their day jumping on trampolines, lifting weights and throwing medicine balls into the air as they counted down the hours to the show’s opening night at Duluth’s Infinite Energy Center.

“I’ve always enjoyed performing and being very expressive, and luckily, my act allows for that — I do the trampoline act with trampo-beds,” Rice said. “It’s just a very playful act with opportunities to do little jigs on the side and dance around if you want, so I enjoy really being able to be myself onstage. It’s better than most jobs, but I mean, there are times too when I’m just like, ‘God, I am so tired.’”

Though Corteo, Cirque du Soleil’s latest show, which runs through Sunday, came together seamlessly Wednesday night, artists and set technicians were building the set and practicing up to two hours prior to the public performance, a testament to the amount of work it takes to put on a Cirque du Soleil show.

With 51 artists from 18 countries, it’s an all-hands-on-deck job, and demands a lot from everyone, Rice said.

“Just the realities of having to perform seven times a week, multiple times a day, doing the same thing — it’s (a lot),” she said. “Mentally, too, this is week 11 now of doing this. It’s usually 10 weeks, but this is an 11-week leg, so everyone is looking forward to a break.”

Still, Rice, who started competing in gymnastics competitions when she was five, said the long hours and long weeks are all worth it in the end.

“Being able to perform for a different crowd every single week is fun,” she said. “Hearing applause at the end of your act and hearing people laugh during your act is also really exciting. On the performing side, that’s what I really like — just reactions from the audience, because I find those to be really rewarding.”

The audience did a lot of laughing Wednesday night, especially during the Clowness’ helium dance act, in which Valentyna Pahlevanyan, a dwarf who is only 2’5” tall, is suspended from four giant helium balloons and floats through the audience and across the stage.

“Push,” she said to audience members Wednesday, who were instructed to flatten both hands in the air and push Pahlevanyan’s feet as she landed on their hands.

While the act, again, appeared seamless, behind-the-scenes earlier in the day, the performance took preparation.

“They control the weight every day,” Maxwell Batista, Corteo’s publicist, told the Daily Post. “We have Crystal and Geneviève who are both from our props and also our carpentry department, and they come here every day and use (Pahlevanyan’s) weight. Our weight changes every day according to what we eat and drink, and it’s the same for her. So they’re taking her weight every day and making sure it’s the exact amount (of helium) we need for her to go up and down smoothly and not go too high or too low.

“If it needs to be changed, we also have a weight bags that they can add or remove. If (Pahlevanyan) goes too high and gets stuck up there, she has a rope attached to her costume and she can just throw the rope down and someone can rescue her, but it’s never happened — she always goes up and down.”

Though media was given special access prior to Wednesday’s show, Batista said the goal is to awe audience members with acts such a Pahlevanyan’s.

Stephannie Roman and Norielis Amador, friends who attended Corteo’s opening performance, said the show achieved just that.

“I love it,” Roman said. “It’s so cool — the (teeterboard) was my favorite.”

“I would definitely (come back) if it came to Atlanta (again),” Amador said. “I would want it to be a different theme (because) there are so many and I want to go to them all.”