Cirque du Soleil’s high-wire act
The 100 members of the celebrated int'l acrobatic circus have taken over the Tel Aviv's Nokia Arena for 3 weeks.
‘ALEGRIA’ Photo: Courtesy/ PR
A little more than 24 hours before the curtain was due rise on the Cirque du
Soleil circus acrobatic spectacle, Mark Baylor was spending Tuesday afternoon
limbering up on parallel bars at a training station deep in the bowels of the
Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv.
There may have been nervous excitement hidden
beneath the spiky blond-dyed hair and upper physique found usually in
sculptures, but the shirtless 27-year-old Canadian gymnast was an image of
relaxed determination, as he went through aerial warm-up exercises that most of
us could only dream of attempting.
“We’re stoked, there’s going to be
some good energy on the stage,” said Baylor, who was a member of Canada’s
national gymnastics team before joining Cirque du Soleil four years ago. “We
thrive on energy and if the crowd is amped, we can feel it – it’s
Baylor is one of the 55 performers who populate Cirque du
Soleil’s Alegria, one of 22 productions the Canadian-based company presents
around the world.
Synonymous with Las Vegas, due to its ubiquitous
presence there, Cirque du Soleil has branched out since being established in
1984, with its wings now spanning the entire globe. But the 20-performance run
of its signature production Alegria, which began Wednesday night, marks the
first time the high-flying extravaganza, which debuted in 1994, has made it to
According to Alegria Production Manager Michel Therrien, the
biggest obstacle is to find a venue that meets Cirque du Soleil’s stringent
space and logistical specifications.
The show was originally designed to
be performed under a big top, but in 2009 was revamped for
However, with equipment and staging that fills 22 semitrailers,
it still offers massive logistical challenges.
“My job is to make sure we
fit the show in the building,” he said. “I flew to Tel Aviv a year ago with my
tape measure, and we found out that the Nokia Arena was good, but contained some
After months of consultations and adjustments, including
taking down part of a wall in the arena to enable oversized sections of the
staging to be hauled into the building, Therrien and his staff of 22 technicians
and another 60 local hired hands, spent two days last week setting up the
elaborate backdrop and stage.
Therrien is also responsible to ensure that
not only the stage, but the backstage areas at the performance, are virtually
identical at each venue the troupe arrives in – both to make the performers feel
like they’re in familiar surroundings and also to provide for their safety in a
performance where a platform placed a half-centimeter off track could result in
For the 100 people from 15 countries who make up the
traveling Cirque troupe, the Nokia Arena is home for the next three weeks. And
behind the stage curtains, a virtual self-contained city has been set up to
answer to their every need.
A full-service dining room is equipped with
two complete meals daily, prepared by a catering staff that travels with the
troupe. Menus – including fresh meat and dairy dishes, ranging from roast turkey
and mac and cheese to tabouli and healthy salads – are based on the various
needs of the performers, some whom require high-protein diets. But a special
pastry chef is also working around the clock, providing gourmet donuts and
cookies for those who feel they deserve a special treat.
Alegria’s traveling publicist Genevive Laurendeau, special effort is made to
incorporate local ingredients and native dishes into the performers’
“I’m sure we’ll be seeing hummus on the menu,” she said. “We try
to give the crew a taste of the country where they’re staying.”
key to keeping a traveling troupe happy is through its collective stomachs,
other daily needs are treated with equal importance. The dining room also
doubles as a living room, with comfortable couches inviting the crew to use the
area for socializing and meeting outside of the pressures of their daily
“You’ve got 100 people living together, working together
and eating together,” said Alegria’s Artistic Director Bruno Darmagnac. “It’s
really a family and while you don’t choose the members of your family, you do
need to find a way to get along, and everyone makes that special
Of course, it helps when you don’t have to cook, or do your own
laundry. Next door to the dining room is a full-fledged laundromat with
high-powered washing machines and dryers transported among the contents of those
22 semi-trailers that the Cirque staff transported via roads and ferry from
their last location in Nice, France.
The more than 400 elaborate stage
costumes are cleaned daily, and if anything goes amiss, there’s a staff of
tailors on hand to sew back on that stray button or let out the pants in case a
performer indulges on too many of those doughnuts.
For more serious
situations, there’s a full-time physical therapist and masseuse on hand to take
care of any preshow ailments. But according to Laurendeau, the whole backstage
setup is designed to minimize the likelihood that anything will come between the
performer and the performance.
“We try to prevent injuries through
regular training, warm up, onstage practice, and all the elements like
nutritional food, so the performers have everything they need to focus on their
performance,” she said.
It’s a long way from the ramshackle traveling
circus depicted in folklore and iconic films like Martin Scorsese’s Carny, and
if anybody can be credited with redefining what a circus in the 21st Century can
encompass, it’s Cirque de Soleil.
The “Circus of the Sun” was founded by
two Montreal street performers, Guy Laliberte and Daniel Gauthier.
show is a synthesis of circus styles from around the world, with its own central
theme and storyline. Adding to the spectacle is a live six-piece band that pumps
up the audience with a mix of rhythmic styles ranging from pop and tango to
klezmer and techno.
Alegria, which was created for Cirque Du Soleil’s
10th anniversary, takes its name from the Spanish word for “joy.” And the show,
as it marks its 18th year, is “like good wine, it’s getting better with time,”
according to Artistic Director Darmagnac.
“The original concept of the
show has stayed the same from the beginning – what’s improved is the
acrobatics,” he said. “Like we’ve seen in the Olympics this year, records are
being broken and it’s the same with us – the level of quality keeps getting
higher and higher.”
Explaining that Alegria is a performer-driven show,
and not one relying on bells and whistles and special effects, Darmagnac said
that the human aspect is what has made it – and all Cirque du Soleil’s
productions – the massive success stories they are.
“We tap into
something very human and touching, and that’s the special element we offer,” he
said. “Sure, it’s a show with circus acrobats, but it’s staged in a way that the
show is also a theatrical performance where there are moments of bristling
energy, but also quieter, poignant moments. The key to Alegria is in its details
and its depth.
“When the performers get on stage, it’s like ‘here we are,
this is what we have to give to you.’ It’s up to the public to take it – and
usually they do – and it’s up to the public to decide how to react.
a good bet that at the Nokia Arena over the next three weeks, the reaction will
be multiple standing ovations.