By Ed Uy
When Cirque du Soleil brought in “Varekai” to Manila last year, Filipinos finally got to experience why the entire world has equated “circus” with the touring production company.
At a time when many people derive their enjoyment from technology, when talent has been relegated into TV reality shows, and the word ‘circus’ has become more synonymous with local politics, Cirque du Soleil has kept the tradition alive by sharing its awe-inspiring performances to audiences around the world.
Circus of the Sun
Founded by Guy Laliberté, and his colleagues in the 80s, the company traces its roots to the small town of Baie-Saint-Paul, near Québec Canada. It began as a band of street performers who roamed the streets striding on stilts, juggling, dancing, breathing fire, and playing music. In 1984, as Québec was celebrating the 450th anniversary of Canada’s discovery, the city needed a show that would carry the festivities out across the province. It was there that Cirque du Soleil made its debut performance and the group hasn’t stopped since.
The name Cirque du Soleil or Circus of the Sun, reflects Laliberté’s notion that “the sun stands for energy and youth” and embodies what the company is all about.
A group of local media representatives were invited to the AsiaWorld-Arena in Hong Kong for a backstage tour to learn more about the company and experience Saltimbanco– the show that debuts at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila next month.
“First thing to say about Cirque is that it has grown from less than a hundred people back in 1984 to more than 5,000 employees today. That includes more than 1,300 artists from all over the world spread on 21 different shows,” began publicist Maxime Charbonneau.
Of the 21 shows, Charbonneau said, 11 are resident shows. “Resident shows are those staged in Las Vegas, Orlando, Los Angeles, etc while the rest are touring shows.”
“There are currently 10 shows being staged all over the world; five are touring in the big top (Varekai, Kooza, Ovo, Totem and Corteo) and five are now being held in arenas or other large venues (Saltimbanco, Alegria, Dralion, Quidam, and Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour),” he explained.
Just like Varekai, Saltimbanco, used to be staged inside the big top or Grand Chapiteau, similar to the one built at the Quirino Grandstand area last year. But while shows held inside the big tent exuded more of a circus vibe, Charbonneau assured that the arena shows are not lesser productions.
“Everything remains the same, from the stage, the props, the acts– the arena show is just like the big top version, but from a logistics point of view, arena shows are much faster to put up and are more easily transportable,” he explained.
Charbonneau said they’ve converted some of the big top shows into the arena format to be able to bring it to more cities and explore new potential markets.
“A show on the big top takes 10 to 12 days to set up, and almost a week to pack. With the arena setup, it only takes 10 to 12 hours to put up and the load out only takes around 2 to 4 hours. So its much faster, much more efficient time wise, and allows us bring our shows to more cities and explore new markets,” he added.
Charbonneau adds that because of the arena format, they’ve been able to introduce Cirque du Soleil to South Africa, Turkey, the Middle East, Beirut, Qatar and many other places that the big top set up wasn’t possible.
Using Saltimbanco as an example, from 35 to 40 cities a year in the last 5 years, the show has already reached 175 cities all over the world since it was changed into an arena format. “It is the only show to be held in five different continents, and even after 20 years it remains as the second most watched and profitable show of the whole company” he cited.
Evolution of a city
It is quite symbolic that the show that has toured the most cities is also inspired by the urban fabric and the evolution of a metropolis.
As it opens in Manila, Cirque du Soleil again unlocks a portal to an unknown world where strange characters leads audiences through unbelievable sets and surreal atmospheres to the sound of entrancing music. Decidedly baroque in its visual, the show’s eclectic cast of characters draws spectators into a fanciful, dreamlike world, and an imaginary city where diversity is a cause for hope. The show explores the urban experience in all its myriad forms: The people who live there, their idiosyncrasies and likeness, families and groups, the hustle and bustle of the street and the towering heights of skyscrapers.
Saltimbanco, comes from the Italian word, “saltare in banco,” which literally means “to jump on a bench,” and since it premiered in 1992 it has made audiences all over the world jump from their seats to applaud the performances.
“Saltimbanco is the longest running Cirque du Soleil touring show, relates the show’s Artistic director Neelanthi Vadivel who has been involved with the show for the last three years.
|Eddy the Clown|
“The concept of the show is about evolution and bringing people together and creating a metropolis. You have to remember that when the show was created in 1992 it was a time when a lot of people from the countryside began to move into cities, giving birth to these so called mega-cities,” Vadivel points out.
“Saltimbanco also embodies the values of Cirque du Soleil itself—as it was created in the original spirit of meeting people and cultures and the positive and spontaneous moments of joy and cooperation that come out of those unions.”
Entertaining and enthralling
The show features an international cast of 51 performers and musicians from more than 20 different countries. It is divided into 10 acts interspersed with dancing, singing, musical solos and comedic interludes requiring audience participation.
It is these comedic interactions with the audience that makes Saltimbanco different from the other shows as it makes it more enjoyable and endearing for the entire family. Just make sure you get to the venue on time as the show starts promptly.
Charbonneau says the entire act relies on the character Eddie, the “jester or clown” to be able to choose a very willing participant from the audience. “Each participant reacts differently so Eddie has to be able to pick out someone who would gamely play along for the act work.”
In between those fits of laughter are the main performances that showcase amazing talent and breathtaking displays of skill and acrobatics.
First is Adagio, an act inspired by a discipline called “acrosport.” It features three acrobats whose bodies seemingly meld together to create startling figures in a display of flexibility, balance and grace.
Symbolizing the sky-scrapers of Saltimbanco, seven meter high Chinese poles are then brought to the stage, followed shortly by several multi-colored beings who begin to climb, leap from pole to pole and soar through the air in a breathtaking display of agility, power and speed. Like colored lizards playing on trees, the synchronized jumps, poses, and pole drops look so effortless.
Raising the difficulty of the act, the Juggler performs on top of a flight of stairs as he begins to throw, bounce and dribble an increasing number of balls. Exhibiting outstanding deftness, the sheer speed of execution makes for an unforgettable show of rhythm as he times every catch and throw with the beat of the music.
|Balancing on Canes|
Performing to their own beat is a duo of Boleadoras who begin their act with a couple native looking drums. The real act, however, formally begins as soon as they pick up their “boleadoras” –a simple percussion instrument made of a ball weight attached to the end of a cord. The duo then begins to swirl and bounce their boleadoras off the ground to create exploding sounds either in unison or in counterpoint to the dance step of the performers.
|The Chinese Poles|
Perhaps the most dangerous act of the show is the Russian Swing, where a family of baroque characters, turn the stage into a huge playground. Using the pendulum like swing, each member is catapulted up to 12 meters in the air where they execute breathtaking aerial jumps before falling either on their feet, on a bar, or on the shoulders of their partners atop a human pyramid.
Other acts are equally impressive but describing them may prove to be spoilers and ruin the surprise. These include the sexy and animal like Balance on Canes; Hand to hand, which feature two men in a display of tremendous power and an unwavering sense of balance; the Bungees which feature four performers flying in the air like angels; and the Solo and Duo Trapeze acts that play out like an aerial ballet.
If you’ve ever watched a Cirque du Soleil show, then you’d come to expect all the dazzling colors and fantastical imagery brought about by the costumes, the lighting and stage design. What sets Saltimbanco apart from the other shows like Varekai, is its more playful tone and characters that successfully keep the audience entertained and laughing with their antics. The skits are not rushed and are given time to develop, eventually playing out like an animated cartoon; while the interactions between the characters of the Ringmaster and Dreamer are also quite amusing.
Pinoy and proud
As with other Cirque du Soleil shows, the characters of Saltimbanco also use a language they call ‘gibberish,’ which is mainly composed of ticks, tocks, consonants, and grunts (think Sims). But despite the incomprehensible language, the audience is able to understand and pick up on the mood of the each act thanks to the music being played by the live band. Vadivel describes the music of Saltimbanco as “world music”—which is a mix of rock and roll, disco and even opera.
One of the band members, who play both guitar and keyboards, is Adrian Andres, whose family is originally from the Philippines.
Andres proudly showed off his “Kapayapaan sa isip” tattoo on his arm stating his father was originally from Batangas while his mother was from Pangasinan.
Andres says just like all the members of the cast he also auditioned for the part. “I was studying at the Musicians Institute College of contemporary music, when Cirque Du Soleil held an exclusive audition at our campus.” He says he used to sing and rap and wasn’t much of a guitar player until he became part of Cirque.
Andres has been with Saltimbanco for the past 3 1/2 years and says he enjoys touring all over the world and meeting other Filipinos. “In Canada and Los Angeles, I’ve already met a lot of Filipino doctors and nurses, but as I toured with Cirque, I got to meet a lot more Filipinos in different parts of the world. Like when we went to Hard Rock in Macau, the full staff and even the band was Filipino—we’re everywhere and its amazing!
He says he is looking forward to spending sometime in the Philippines after their two-week performance in Manila.
Saltimbanco runs from August 9 to 19, 2012 at Mall Of Asia Arena in Pasay City. Tickets are available now at www.cirquedusoleil.com/saltimbanco, www.hoopla.ph or www.smtickets.com or by calling 320-1111 or 470-2222. Tickets can also be purchased at the Manila Hotel concierge and at the box office (starting August 9). For more information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.
Ticket Prices are as follows:
Patron Center – 7500
Patron Side – 5500
Lower Box center – 5500
Lower Box center PWD – 5500
Lower Box side – 3500
Lower Box side PWD – 3500
Upper Box – 2500
Upper Box PWD – 2500
General admission – 1200
Genl adm PWD – 1200