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“Amaluna” celebrates womanhood through athletic artistry and music

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“Amaluna” celebrates womanhood through athletic artistry and music

Posted on 19 November 2014 by Jonathan Williams

Miranda's water bowl performance symbolizes her transition into womanhood.

Miranda’s water bowl performance symbolizes her transition into womanhood.

Female performers are often central to the stories being told at Cirque du Soleil shows. But they have never been more celebrated than they are in Amaluna, which premiered in 2012 and features a cast of 70 percent women, with an entirely female band. A coming-of-age story told through music, dance, juggling, acrobatics and other amazing athletic performances, Amaluna follows Miranda as she not only begins her transformation into womanhood, but encounters her first male romantic interest when Romeo’s ship crashes on her island during a storm. Her transition is made complete during a spectacular performance in an enormous water bowl under the watchful eye of the Moon Goddess (and Romeo, who eventually can’t help but join her in the water). But there are many other important steps in Miranda’s growing process, which is a more tangible narrative than most Cirque shows told through some of Cirque’s most interesting acts to date. Rowenna Dunn, who has been Cirque’s touring publicist for eight years, tells Wrestling with Pop Culture what inspired Amaluna and where some of its more interesting acts were discovered.

I got to see the show during its opening weekend in Atlanta and noticed that it is a largely female cast with an entirely female band. Why was the decision made to do such a female-centric Cirque du Soleil show?

This is actually the 33rd production we have produced, and Cirque celebrated its 30th anniversary in January of this year, which was a pretty big milestone for us. Every time they create a show they try to come up with something different and something new for our existing fans as well as for our new fans. We’re changing with the times and keeping up to date with technology and things like that, so our shows that have been produced in the last couple of years are obviously much different than the show that were produced years ago. When the idea came up for this show, Guy Laliberté, our founder and owner, decided it was about time to really showcase women, their strengths, their acrobatic skill and their virtuosity. Traditionally with all of Cirque’s show, the ratio of the cast was about 70-80 percent male to 20-30 percent female. That wasn’t necessarily a conscious effort, that was just the way it fell. When this show came about, a conscious effort was made to really seek out these amazing female athletes, acrobats and artists to create the show. Similarly for the band, it’s the first time we’ve had a 100 percent female band.

The central story is a coming of age for Miranda as she becomes a woman.

Part of creating this show with a bit of a different twist and an emphasis on showcasing the strength, beauty and grace of women, we brought in Diane Paulus, who is a Broadway director and the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard. She was brought in to bring a bit stronger narrative and more theatrical elements to the show. A lot of our shows aren’t necessarily telling a linear story, but in this case it was decided to have a very strong storyline. She drew upon a lot of classical influences, Greek and Norse mythology, a bit of a spin on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. That’s why you see Cali the lizard and Prospera, a female spin on Prospero. Diane has directed a lot of opera, so she drew from that background as she was creating this show, as well. It’s a linear storyline with a beginning, middle and end, but it is still very whimsical and open for interpretation.

You mentioned Cali, the male lizard character who seems to be Miranda’s protector. But he becomes a bit overprotective when she meets Romeo. Cali’s performance really stood out, even though this show is so female-centric.

Viktor Kee portrays Cali, Miranda's overprotective pet, in Cirque du Soleil's "Amaluna".

Viktor Kee portrays Cali, Miranda’s overprotective pet, in Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna”.

He’s been her only pet and only companion on the island, so he sees Romeo as a threat when he arrives on the island. He’s been with the company for about 15 years and he created the role of the juggler on one of our other shows, Dralion, and has worked for a few different productions. That role was created with him in mind, so he was approached directly to say, “Hey. We’re creating this show and we have this storyline we’re putting together. We have this cast of amazing acts. How would you feel about creating this character?” With a lot of other disciplines and a lot of other theatrical performances, you might have somebody who would just do their main act on the stage and they’re not really doing much else throughout the show. But in this case Viktor Kee, who plays Cali, was really integral in creating that role and very invested in creating that role. You see him on stage for about 90 percent of the show. He’s pretty much on stage or in the audience or somewhere visible, in character, even when he’s not the main act.

The other act that was interesting to me was Lara Jacobs Rigolo and her intense stick balancing routine.

That’s our Balance Goddess. It’s demonstrating balance when Romeo is falling in love and trying to see if it’s going to work. That act was actually performed just as it was brought to us. We have a few different ways that we cast for our shows. We go out and find existing acts and existing pieces that we think would fit well into one of our existing shows, or maybe we have a bank of candidates we might draw upon at a later stage or use to replace an existing act. With that particular act, Lara’s father created it. So I guess he woke up one day and thought that was a good idea to start balancing those palm fronds one upon another and created a very beautiful and very lyrical act. So he was contacted by Cirque du Soleil to say, “Do you know any girls who know the act or can audition for it?” He said, “Yes. My daughter can learn.” She hadn’t actually done it before that point; he was the only one in the world that could do that particular act. So he flew to Montreal from Switzerland. She was actually in New York at the time, so she also flew to Montreal. He had about two or three days to teach it to her. He also taught it to a few other people who were auditioning for the act. She still had to audition and eventually won the role. I think there are two or three other people in the world who know it now. We actually have another girl who works in rotation and comes in and performs the act sometimes. He was charged with creating the act and maintaining the integrity of it. Cirque du Soleil said, “Wow! That’s beautiful. We want to integrate that into this particular storyline.” Alternatively, we will go to a lot of athletic competitions across Europe and around the world to draw upon the talents and skills and invite people in to create an act either in house or workshopping it together with another group of athletes.

I was actually going to ask how Cirque goes about discovering all the unique talents involved with its shows.

Lara Jacobs Rigolo plays the Balance Goddess in Cirque du Soleil's "Amaluna".

Lara Jacobs Rigolo plays the Balance Goddess in Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna”.

They go through days and days and days of views on YouTube, which is obviously the way of the future. But that one was pretty incredible and I know the creative team for this show drew a lot of inspiration from amazing female athletes, artists, acrobats, dancers and performers. So they have people that will send in videos of themselves for casting, but we do castings as well. Usually in the U.S. it’s a few times a year, we might go to Australia once a year, we might show up in a couple of different places across Europe. So it’s a lot of going through videos, seeing what’s trending on social media, seeing what new and different acts are popping up around the world. We’ve been doing this for 30 years and this is the 33rd production we’ve produced, so it’s very important to not just show the same old tricks.

Where can people see Amaluna over the next few weeks?

We’re in Atlanta through Nov. 30 then we head to Miami, which is a nice place to spend the winter months. We’re in Miami until the end of January, then we head to Houston. We have a little bit of a break after that before heading to Europe.


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Cirque du Soleil film transports viewers “Worlds Away” with 3-D adventures

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Cirque du Soleil film transports viewers “Worlds Away” with 3-D adventures

Posted on 21 December 2012 by Jonathan Williams


The Aerialist (Igor Zaripov) and Mia (Erica Linz) travers many worlds to find each other. Photo by Mark Fellman.

Cirque du Soleil is known for wowing crowds with its international athletic talents, elaborate set designs and impressive costumes. But audiences are typically only able to escape into one Cirque world at a time. But with Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away, moviegoers get to see snippets of several of Cirque’s non-touring Las Vegas shows in 3-D with a narrative that ties it all together.

The main story is of a young Mid-Western woman named Mia (Erica Kathleen Linz) who ventures to the other side of the tracks to visit a traveling carnival. But this is no Cirque show under the Grand Chapiteau. This is an old-fashioned carnival run by derelicts and featuring exploitative sideshow acts like the strongman and bearded lady. You know, the kind of place where professional wrestling was born.

While traversing the carnies and other dangers, Mia makes eye contact with a handsome carnival worker being forced to hammer tent spikes into the ground. When she receives a flyer for The Aerialist (Igor Zaripov), she realizes he is the same man and seeks out his performance. But when he misses his trapeze bar and plummets to the ground, both Mia and The Aerialist are sucked into an even darker world where Cirque shows such as , Mystère, Criss Angel Believe and Zumanity are all just a few steps from each other under their own tents.

Mia (Erica Linz) is led through Cirque's many worlds by Le Vieux (Benedikt Negro). Photo by Mark Fellman.

Mia’s guide on her quest to find The Aerialist (as well as her way back to her wholesome home) is a silent Joker-esque clown (Benedikt Negro) who, despite his creepy demeanor, really does seem interested in helping her. A majority of the film seems to focus on (a post-apocalyptic mix of Mad Max and Flash Gordon), the sensual water displays of O and The Beatles Love. And the Beatles soundtrack – particularly “Get Back” – provides a fitting narrative to Mia’s predicament. Mia also wanders in and out of Viva Elvis for surreal performances such as wall-crawling and trampoline-jumping masked superheros (or are they luchadores?). As impressive and frightening as all these illusions, battles, athletics and musical performances are, Mia only wants to see one performer, which is what keeps her going.

The Aerialist, in the meantime, is on a similar quest to find Mia. And his encounters with the various Cirque performers require him to utilize his own athletic talents in order to venture on to the next tent. Directed by Andrew Adamson and produced by James Cameron, Worlds Away becomes a splendorous display of the many Las Vegas attractions as well as an entirely new Cirque story that could easily play out in subsequent movies or live productions. And while such an endeavor could have come across as an infomercial-like marketing ploy in less-sophisticated hands, Worlds Away is able to introduce viewers to Cirque’s magic without it seeming contrived.


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Fabio Luis Santos springs into amphibious action in Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem”

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Fabio Luis Santos springs into amphibious action in Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem”

Posted on 23 November 2012 by Jonathan Williams

Born just three years ago, Totem is one of Cirque du Soleil‘s youngest touring shows. Featuring performers from 18 different countries, Totem focuses on the evolution of mankind, as well as the individual potential each of us holds in the larger framework of the history of humanity. Totem features several acrobatic acts unique to this show, including Chinese unicyclists who catch bowls on their heads, a Blue Man Group-like act featuring a scientist juggling illuminated balls inside a clear cone, and a Native American couple performing a roller skating ceremony atop a giant drum. But bookending the entire spectacle are Totem‘s iconic and acrobatic frogs who hop around on a giant 2600-pound turtle skeleton, criss-crossing each other as they leap through the air. One of those frogs is portrayed by Brazilian gymnast Fabio Luis Santos, who takes a moment to talk to Wrestling with Pop Culture about his amphibious transformation.

Photo by Pouya Dianat/Cirque du Soleil.

When you were growing up training to be a gymnast, did you ever imagine that you’d end up portraying a frog?

Not really. I always thought I’d be a gymnast, then a coach. I did my physical education at the university, focusing on the sports side. After the opportunity came to audition for Cirque, which would be more structured and more well payed, I started to look towards the more artistic side.

Each Cirque performer has to do his or her own makeup. Is that something you had to learn specifically for Cirque or had you previously been involved in any sort of theatrical performances?

I never did my own makeup before or even used makeup before. But now it’s such a part of my life to wake up, come here, shave and do my makeup. You get used to it. It’s something new for me, but it’s part of my life.

How long have you been part of this show?

I started with its creation. I think I was the first guy arriving in Montreal in September 2009. The next day a few more frogs arrived and we started the creation. A little later, more people started to come throughout the month. But I’ve been doing it for a little more than three years.

Did you have any creative input on Totem since you were one of the first performers involved with it?

A little, yes. The director, Robert Lepage, is a genius. He was open to new ideas. We know that he’s amazing and we are just learning, so we didn’t try to give him a lot of stupid ideas. But he used to ask and we really participated in the entire evolution of this show as it was growing. Of course we helped with its creation, but it mainly came from his mind and he made the show.

Has the show evolved much since it started touring?

Oh, yes. A lot. Everybody has gotten more experience. I was new in this business and a few other people were, also. The acts have developed a little bit more. We opened with not a lot of problems and it was a great show already. Now we’re even better and I believe within a few years it will only get better and better.

Photo by Pouya Dianat/Cirque du Soleil.

Where all has Totem taken you so far?

We’ve done North America and Europe. Then we’ll move to Australia, back to Europe, Japan, South America. The show has a lifespan of 15 years, but will remain in the U.S. until at least 2014.

How do audiences in different cities and countries react to Totem? Do you tailor each performance to the location you’re in?

The Americans are really crazy. They scream a lot and clap a lot, and that’s pretty cool. In Europe they were a little more reserved, especially in London. They’re great also, but they just clap and keep a little more quiet. Here in the USA it’s amazing. I think USA is a great crowd and I love when people scream and clap and go crazy. It’s a great feeling.

Do you plan on being a frog in this show for the full 15 years?

Not really. It’s a long time and Cirque’s prepared to replace each performer when the artist decides to stop or change shows. I have a few plans for next year ,but for now I am with Totem until the end of my contract.

What are your plans after Totem?

I’m moving to another Cirque show in Brazil. After doing a show for three years, I’m looking for new challenges. I’m doing a show where there’s a lot more acting, so there will be a lot of new challenges. Everybody has their own timing. Some people stay with a show for five years, some people stay 15, some people stay 20. But it’s almost my time to move on, but I’m still with Totem and I will finish my work here before moving on to anything new.

Given your background as a competitive gymnast, what was the transition to this type of performance like for you?

I’m really competitive, so it was really hard for me to become an artist without the competitive side. I like to win, I like to be on a podium, I like people calling, “First place, Fabio Santos.” Now I try to use a similar feeling to being in first place when I am on stage every day with people clapping. It’s kind of a similar feeling, but it was hard for me in the beginning to not compete. But, for me, coming to the best company in the entertainment business, it gives me a new vision of life and work.

How did the opportunity to join Cirque originally arise for you?

Somebody from casting went to Brazil to find new talent. Cirque really likes Brazilian people because we’re really open to new things, we laugh, we have fun and we have something warm inside. So I did the audition at the end of 2008 and the next year they called me to offer me a job.

At this point in your life and career, do you think you’d like to continue doing this type of acrobatic performance or go back to competing at some point?

Photo by Pouya Dianat/Cirque du Soleil.

If I go back to competing someday, it would be just for fun and not really to win. My time has passed. Now I’m an artist and I want to keep doing what I’m doing. One day, when I decide to stop, I can go back to gymnastics just to have fun and enjoy my body and what I’ve learned and done all my life since I was eight years old. Acrobatics is part of my life, so I cannot let it go very easily.

With all the different nationalities, cultures and languages you encounter each day on a Cirque show, what is it like for you as a performer?

We learn a lot about other cultures. It’s great to see people who have grown up in a different way than I did. We have to respect each other. To be an artist in Cirque du Soleil you need to be a little crazy. So at the end, everybody’s a little crazy and we have a good life together. We’re a family even though everybody’s from a different place in the world. We try to understand and be cool with that so we don’t have any problems.


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Cirque du Soleil immortalizes Michael Jackson with music, theatrics

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Cirque du Soleil immortalizes Michael Jackson with music, theatrics

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Jonathan Williams




As is the case with any significant artist or musician, the spirit often lives on long after the person is no longer with us through the music and images he leaves behind. And when you’re talking about someone as eclectic as Michael Jackson, you should expect nothing less for his remembrance than the elaborate costumes and unique circus performers of Cirque du Soleil. Having started in Cirque’s home town of Montreal last October, Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour features MJ favorites like “Beat It,” “Ben” and “Man in the Mirror” while Cirque dancers, aerialists and acrobats add to the costumed spectacle seen in his iconic videos. Having performed in more than 60 North American cities since October, the tour continues through August before heading to Europe for the rest of the year. With a three-night stand in Atlanta starting tonight, tour spokesperson Laura Silverman talks to Wrestling with Pop Culture about The Immortal Tour‘s spectacle.

This isn’t Cirque du Soleil’s first show based on a particular pop musician. For those of us who have yet to see MJ, how does it compare to other Cirque du Soleil performances?

Aerialists perform to “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” in “Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour” (photo courtesy OSA Images)

This show is much different from any other Cirque du Soleil show, including the Beatles and Elvis shows. It’s very much Cirque du Soleil meets rock/pop concert whereas the other shows are much more theatrical. This one really feels like you’re at a Michael Jackson concert. It’s taking Cirque du Soleil elements that people know the company for – contortionists, aerials, acrobatics and all of that – and pairing it with Michael Jackson’s music, his iconic dance moves and the flashy costumes that both Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil are known for. So it really has a high-energy concert feel to it as opposed to it being a theatrical show.

Was Michael Jackson creatively involved with the show before he passed away?

Unfortunately this specific project didn’t come about until after his passing, but he was a fan of Cirque du Soleil. He saw one of the very first big top shows in Santa Monica in the 1980s and he visited our international headquarters in Montreal in 2004. So there had always been a mutual respect between Cirque du Soleil and Michael Jackson. Cirque du Soleil is always trying to outdo itself coming up with new ideas for its shows and costumes and technology, and Michael Jackson was the same way. He was always thinking ahead of the curve, always coming up with ideas for things you couldn’t even do yet. In that respect, I think that partnership was natural.

Since the focus of this show is on the music and you said it is more like a rock concert than a typical Cirque du Soleil show, are most of the performers dancers or does it have the different types of performers we might see at any other Cirque du Soleil show?

A somewhat macabre seen from Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour” (photo courtesy OSA Images)

We have a great mix. There are 61 total artists in our show, so that breaks down to about 12 musicians, 26 acrobats and 23 dancers. We have our duo aerial artists, a man and woman swinging and flying together in the air; we have a contortion act; and there’s a pole dancer act and she’s a two-time world champion in pole dancing, so she’s just phenomenal. There’s a Japanese acrobatic team that does a really amazing number to “Sream.” And there’s aerial stuff interjected into the dance numbers, too. So for “Thriller,” for example, you’re going to see our dancers doing the signature “Thriller” moves that most people will recognize, but you’re also going to see our acrobats flying through the air.

Speaking of “Thriller,” is the show a collection of interpretations of his songs and videos or is it more trying to capture the overall spirit of Michael Jackson, or maybe a little bit of both?

It’s definitely a little bit of both. The idea of the show is to pay tribute and celebrate everything that Michael Jackson left to us, from his music, his voice, his dance moves, his costumes, his messages and the overall idea of his spirit. So in the numbers where there are iconic Michael Jackson moves or costumes, we’ve paired those with Cirque du Soleil. So with “Thriller,” there are not only werewolves and zombies, but our artists add mummy costumes to the “Thriller” dance and we also add acrobatics to that. And with “Smooth Criminal,” for example, you’re going to see that iconic lean move, but we have pyrotechnics involved in the number. It was easy to coordinate this because there were a ton of choreographers that worked on the show, many of whom had actually worked with Michael Jackson for many years. So they were able to take moves that Michael Jackson was known for and sort of elaborate on that.

Has this show changed or evolved very much since it started last fall?

Cirque du Soleil recreates the “Smooth Criminal” lean in “Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour” (photo courtesy OSA Images)

With any Cirque show we’re always working to make things better and evolve it as necessary. Nothing has changed in the show, but we always consider our projects sort of a work in progress and tweak things to make it the best it can be.

Once this tour wraps up in Europe next year, are there plans to do another Michael Jackson show that might incorporate some of his other songs?

There’s nothing like that planned for this show, but there is a completely different show planned to open in Vegas next year. But I’m not sure if that one will include different songs. It will be at Mandalay Bay sometime next year.

For more information, go to www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/show/michael-jackson-tour.

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