Cirque du Soleil, the Montreal-based theatrical company, has enchanted more than 100 million spectators on six continents since its inception in 1984.
For the third time in that nearly 30 year history, Cirque du Soleil is coming to Louisville, this time with its production of Quidam. In Quidam, Zoe, a young girl, eschews her boring existence and inattentive parents by finding an imaginary world where she meets a host of characters who bring excitement to her life.
So just what is Cirque du Soleil? According to Jessica LeBoeuf, a traveling publicist with Quidam, Cirque developed its own new genre. “It’s a sort of contemporary circus without the animals. [The creators decided to] showcase the human body; dress it up in fancy costumes and makeup, and push the limits.” Cirque combines live music, theatre, dance and acrobatics. And though there is a storyline, there are no spoken words. Cirque stories “sound exotic and foreign to everyone; it’s an invented language,” says LeBoeuf.
What isn’t invented are the incredible feats of strength, agility and acrobatics, all performed without safety harnesses or nets, that leave spectators holding their breath. Before an act makes it into a show, the troupe members practice hundreds—and thousands—of times, working to perfect the skills and committing the moves to muscle memory; because there is no room for error. Rehearsing with safety lines gives the troupe valuable time to develop trust and learn the movements of each other. “You can see how to react when it’s not perfect,” says Adrienn Banhegyi, who performs in the Skipping Ropes act of Quidam.
And developing that trust is no easy task. The cast and crew of Quidam is comprised of people from 25 countries. “It’s a difficult issue because you work with people from different cultures. But with lots of practice, you get to know the other person from the littlest reaction and learn what to expect,” says Banhegyi.
But how does one communicate with teammates from such a wide swath of the world? “Most of the time we use English, but we learn bits and pieces of each other’s’ languages, so you can hear different accents. Sometimes it’s more body language and less talking,” says Banhegyi.
Sometimes, however, that well-intended communication doesn’t send the right message. LeBoeuf recalls a time recently when they were encouraging a new castmate from Taiwan by giving him a pat on the shoulder before his act. It wasn’t until weeks later that they found out that doing so was extremely bad luck to people from Taiwan. “But he is such of polite nature that he didn’t tell us!” she smiled.
“And the Russians have some things that you can’t say in practice,” says LeBoeuf, “you can never say ‘last one’ to the Russians. You can say, ‘one more.’ Because ‘last one’ for them is the last one that they’ll ever do.”
To be sure, being a member of Cirque du Soleil is a learning experience in and of itself, but so is being on the road. The Quidam cast follows a 10-week on, 2-week off schedule, usually spending about one week per city. For the first two days in a new venue, the cast has some time off to explore while the technical crew loads in and the wardrobe staff prepares the 250 costumes and 300 pairs of hand painted shoes. Normally, Wednesday is a full-rehearsal day. Later, the cast prepares for performance, which includes spending anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes doing their own intricate makeup for the show. Following the show, cast members may spend time in the backstage gym, working from specialized training routines to stay in shape, or watch their performance on the daily recording for places to improve. It’s not all work and no play, however, as cast members frequently give lessons to each other in their respective disciplines.
Currently, the backstage of Quidam is in full swing with salsa lessons.
With a cast of 50 elite athletes and a crew bringing the total number to 100, Quidam is no small production. It’s a good thing then, that a catering team travels with the troupe, providing upwards of 300 meals a day while utilizing local meat, seafood and produce. As the cooks and chefs get to know the cast and their specialized needs, they become an integral part of daily life, and try to intersperse some local culture into the mix. Crawfish was one of the menu choices during Cirque’s recent stay in New Orleans.
Cirque du Soleil’s production of Quidam will be in Louisville Wednesday, June 19 through Sunday, June 23 for seven performances at the KFC Yum! Center. Tickets start at $35 adults/$28 children and can be purchased by calling 800-745-3000, at the Yum! Center box office or online at Ticketmaster or the Cirque website.