Backstage feats as Creative as what’s seen Onstage

June 13, 2017 Richasi

As impressive as Cirque du Soleil’s OVO show may be on the audience side of the curtain, equally impressive feats of logistics take place on the other side, and backstage, as well.

The 19 trucks filled with everything from the show’s sound and other production equipment, to props and costumes, to catering supplies and even washing machines are now parked outside Budweiser Gardens where the show will be performed seven times from Wednesday through Sunday.

At the invitation of the travelling show just before it opened at Kingston’s Rogers K-rock Centre last Dec. 7, I travelled to Quebec City — where Cirque du Soleil started 32 years ago — to take a backstage peek at all of the work that goes into the colourful, slick production about a ladybug that falls in love with a fly and the (acrobatic) insect world in which they live.

It didn’t take long after entering the new Arena Videotron and an hour before the show was to realize this is like a small community travelling from city to city.

The first thing I noticed were the six washing machines near a loading dock door. Cirque du Soleil brings along the machines because the cast’s costumes are washed after each performance.

Signs taped to the washer doors warn the user to remove the costume’s fur trim, should there be any, before putting it in the washer.

On the other side of the hallway sat clothes racks on which the damp costumes are hung to be dried by fans to ensure they don’t shrink or fade.

In all, there are 1,000 costume pieces. Each character has two costumes: a heavier, more detailed one for the insect community scenes and a lighter one for the performer’s acrobatic feats. The cricket uniform, for example, has detachable legs, which each took 75 hours to create.

The corridors leading from the outer hallway toward the arena floor were lined with wheeled containers, each marked with what goes inside, such as “Big Egg in Harness.”

What were normally arena dressing rooms and lounges were converted into makeshift work spaces. There was a room in which the caterers prepare and serve food to the performers and crew; another for the physiotherapists and trainers who tend to the performers’ aches and pains, as well as offering training and information sessions to reduce the risk of injury and promote safety; and yet another for the communications and promotions team, which travels with them.

Walking the hallways backstage, in addition to the stage crew and staff, were the performers themselves — some sporting the makeup of their insect characters, some in their costumes as well. Listen closely and you could hear a variety of languages spoken.

After the show, I got a tour of the backstage, which covers about a third of what would normally be the ice surface, and had been cleaved by the stage and a curtain.

The stage, when seen from behind, looks a bit like a dollhouse in that there are pockets in which the musicians and technicians are set up and work.

Behind the curtain is where the acrobats warm up before, and during, the show. The most prominent feature is the towering structure — the performers call it the jungle gym — which is about half the size of the one used onstage, and can be used by a number of the acrobats. A few worked on floor routines while others took friends and family on a tour. The majority, however, had already changed and boarded the shuttle bus to the downtown hotel at which all of the performers and crew are housed during their run.

The next morning, the performers got back on the bus from the hotel and headed back to the arena to squeeze in some training before the two shows that day.

Even though they perform the same act night after night — they typically stay a week in each location because of the extensive, daylong setup required at each stop — there is a rigorous training schedule, colour-coded for each group of insects, to be followed each day.

The first group backstage were the ants, foot jugglers by training, who lie on the mats, talking and laughing among themselves until their coach called them to attention, at which point they picked up the ­ottoman-sized wooden pieces with their legs, start spinning them, much like a logroller would a tree trunk, and then effortlessly tossed the kiwi-painted pieces from one to another.

Nearby, the dragonfly entwined himself around the metal structure and practised his hand-­balancing act.

Beside the jungle gym were a few sofa chairs turned toward a large television on which a few of the brightly clad performers watched the previous night’s performances to see what needed work.

On the audience side of the curtain, on the main stage, a coach familiarized a new cricket, in full costume, with his tumbling routine. (Later, backstage, the newcomer was wearing his Russia-­embroidered warmups, likely a leftover from his competitor days).

Toward the back of the stage, meanwhile, a couple of fellow crickets, trampolinists, casually practised and filmed each other with a new GoPro camera.

Soon after, the high-flying Russian cradle acrobats tossed spinning high-flyers six metres from one platform to another.

This day, the acrobats — burly men who communicate with each other in Russian — were hoping their work will pay off. They’d been trying some new things and had invited artistic director Marjon Van Grunsven to watch in the hope she would ask them to incorporate the new moves into their daring routine.

Van Grunsven liked what she saw, and was hoping it could be worked into the routine before the next stop in Montreal, which, like Quebec City, were special shows — “royal shows,” she called them — like a band playing a concert in its hometown.

“Our whole team is very active and creative, so that’s nice,” she said as we sat on the arena floor, each of us watching the acrobats peripherally. “I always try to see a positive in these things.”

Van Grunsven considers OVO her pride and joy, as she was its artistic director during the seven years it was performed under the big top, and helped reconfigure it for an arena. The arena stage is much larger, so the show had to be larger, she said.

And the vantage points were different.

“You’re sitting somewhere back there,” she said, gesturing to the seats up and away from the stage, “and it just feels like you lose the beauty of when you’re in the big top, where you feel very close to the show. We said, ‘We need to make it bigger, a lot bigger,’ so that’s a challenge.’”

The climbing wall with which the crickets perform their trampoline act, for example, was enlarged, and now images are projected on it.

They’ve added some new acts, too, she said, and chopped up the acts featuring the clowns — the ladybug and the fly — and interspersed them throughout the show instead of the longer scenes of before, where she felt there was a sag in the audience’s energy.

“We worked on the pacing; it’s a lot faster than it was before. The show is a bit shorter so we could make the pacing shorter.”

Our interview was interrupted when one of the floor directors informed Van Grunsven a malfunctioning piece of equipment might mean part of the show would have to be shelved out of safety concerns.

“I really think it’s a lot better,” Van Grunsven continued.

There are not acrobatic elements that need to be incorporated into each Cirque show, she said. “Sometimes there’s similarities between one show and another . . . ,” she started until another text arrived.

She apologized for the interruption.

“Now we will just continue to evolve,” she said. “We will continue to work on the details, and get it better. That’s the normal process of every show. It never stops. But the big changes have been made; there will not be any other major changes right now.”

And then her phone rang. It was another update.

“I’m really sorry,” she said. “Crisis mode.” And with that she was up and hurried toward the backstage area.

A few hours later, on my way out of the arena before the matinee’s start, there was a local welder, sparks flying, repairing that faulty piece of equipment.

Crisis averted, I was told, and yes, I was assured, the show would go on.

{ SOURCE: Peter Hendra, Kingston Whig-Standard | https://goo.gl/mS3WhF }

The post Backstage feats as Creative as what’s seen Onstage appeared first on Fascination! Newsletter.

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