At the risk of
sounding like a hipster, I liked Cirque du Soleil before it
It was 1994 in
Vegas when I attended their “Mystere” performance. I
remember seeing a man do a one-armed handstand, on a cane,
atop a single pole that towered out of a hastily constructed
pyramid of giant-size tinker toys. I held my breath
frequently, certain someone would fall and break something
Recently I saw
Cirque du Soleil perform “Amaluna” in Calgary, Alberta, my
fourth time seeing the Montreal-based circus troupe, and again
they did not disappoint.
unicycles and undulating tight ropes and trapeze, balancing
acts and back flips, juggling and jocularity, all to original
rock music with sensational singing and great guitar and
drumming reminiscent of Rush.
Dancers moved with inhuman grace. A love story unfolded.
Through it all I found myself wondering, “How is it that
they are all so good looking?” (Awesome costumes aside.)
Turns out, they
all look so great because the working out doesn’t end when
the show does.
“I work out
several days of the week outside of the performances,” says
Melanie Sinclair, a 25-year-old former competitive gymnast
from Orlando, Fla., who does an uneven bar performance for
Cirque du Soleil. “Including the eight to 10 shows a week,
it’s about 30 hours of training each week.”
began gymnastics when she was 6, is always on the move, doing
about 30 minutes of treadmill running or elliptical trainer
She also bikes
to work each day. “I have my own bike I bring on tour,”
she told me. On top of this is a lot of stretching.
“We receive a
large quantity of videos and resumes,” “Amaluna” company
manager Jamie Reilly said of the competition to be part of the
show. “We have casting agents, hold auditions and have a
scouting team that will go to the Olympics and gymnastics
competitions to find talent.”
And it’s not
just amazing physicality they seek.
“There is a
large acting component,” Reilly said. “We need to select
the right people to provide the wow factor during the show.”
And that wow
factor takes time to develop. Sinclair spent nine months of
full-time preparation and rehearsals before “Amaluna”
launched in Montreal.
new to Cirque du Soleil quickly learn how physically demanding
here I’ve realized that cross-training is very important,”
said Amy McClendon, the main dancer (the peacock goddess) in
the show. “I do the elliptical on high resistance to keep my
are provided for the performers by the troupe. “They bring
someone in locally,” McClendon, 26, said. “A lot of the
performers do Pilates. It’s been like gold for me.”
attended the Alvin Ailey School of Dance in New York. Before
joining Cirque she performed musical theater on Broadway. She
found her new role required a higher level of conditioning.
“There is a
lot of physical exertion, even just having to change
costumes,” she said. “There is a whole other physical
performance going on backstage.”
performers have previous careers that lend themselves to
joining this circus, others go to school for it.
“It was four
years of Cirque university,” straps performer Andreanne
Nadeau told me of attending L’Ecole Nationale de Cirque de
Montreal to obtain a diploma in circus studies. “It was five
to seven hours of training every day. There is also theory,
physiology, psychology, career management and a second
impressive musculature, and she needs it. “I am a Valkyrie
in the show,” she said. “It’s a highflying act using
aerial straps. It’s mostly upper-body strength.”
dancing at age 4, but she also played basketball and football
and took part in track and field. She didn’t go to circus
school until later in life. “I didn’t join until I was
And at 31,
Nadeau isn’t worried about the ticking clock for a career
that might seem more conducive to youth. “We have performers
who are over 50 in Cirque du Soleil,” she said.
performers I spoke with are concerned about career longevity,
and so is Cirque du Soleil, which is why two performance
medicine therapists travel with the “Amaluna” troupe, both
of whom have master’s degrees in sports medicine.
the various performers’ disciplines and the body mechanics
that are necessary,” Chad Fraser said. Because joint
injuries are common, the therapists focus on strengthening the
small internal muscles around these joints. “We also train
the muscles in different joint spaces so that if unexpected
movement happens, we prevent injury from taking place.”
As it turns
out, most of the injuries are from overuse. “It comes from
doing the same thing every day,” Fraser said. “But the
performers are pretty good about taking care of themselves.”
“Most of my
injuries came from my gymnastics years,” Sinclair said.
“Here the goal is to make sure you last. It’s not just a
hobby or a sport, it’s your career. You need to be smart.”
On top of the
physical therapy guiding the performers movements, there are
also coaches traveling with the show.
“We have a
coach for our act specifically, and there is another coach who
oversees all the acts,” Sinclair said. “We have a lot of
guidance from the coaching staff and artistic director to help
us continuously refine the show and make it better.”
I can verify
this. Backstage, I saw two large whiteboards filled with
written critiques of previous performances. This is a show
that’s been live for a year, and still they’re trying to
make it better.
And even though
performers live a life of near constant physical exertion,
motivation to go on the stage is always high.
job, you look forward to vacation,” McClendon said. “But
because it’s performing and something I love doing, there is
a motivation that will never go away, even when you’re