Cirque du Soleil’s “Love,” now celebrating its 10th anniversary at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, is an imaginative depiction of the fantasy behind the music of the Beatles. And the faces of those fantasies are those of the 68 performance artists who appear twice nightly in the show, five days a week, 476 shows a year.
“The artists are the key,” says show director Dominic Champagne. “They are the link between the Beatles and the people in the seats.”
The cast is made up of three categories of artists — characters, dancers, and acrobats. It is the latter that is the hallmark player of Cirque shows (“Love” being more of a blend). The company’s casting department travels the world, visiting events, gymnastic and acrobatic championships, and competitions, looking for talent, fulfilling profiles the show is in need of — skill, height, size, etc. — and occasionally discovering “wild card” artists with unique talents.
Artist Marina Boutina, for example, who had practiced sport acrobatics (“acrosport”) since age six in her native Russia, was discovered on such a search in 2000. She toured with Cirque’s traveling “Quidam” show for five years, leaving to join “Love” upon its creation in September 2005 — first as the aerial contortionist Gopi character in “Here Comes the Sun” and bungee artist in show opener “Get Back,” and now playing Lucy (as in “… in the Sky With Diamonds”).
Jon Meehan, who competed in Canada as a power tumbler, was found in a touring audition, coming to Cirque’s La Nouba resident show in Orlando, Fla., in 2013, before joining “Love” the following year.
Newly arriving artists typically are put through a four-week orientation and training. “We have a very structured integration plan,” says Kathleen Renaud, senior director of show quality, who joined Cirque in 1993 as a performer herself in “Mystère.”
Depending on experience, some artists spend five days at Cirque’s home base in Montreal, getting a health check, costume fitting, and makeup coaching, before heading to Vegas. Once there, they spend their first week getting familiar with the show, training in their skill (trampoline, teeterboard, etc.), and getting oriented. In their second week, they begin to learn specific show cues (individual show elements) and begin training in their costumes. “They’ll watch the show and begin following somebody on their track” — an artist’s complete set of activities for a performance — “and get familiar with our backstage,” Renaud says.
|“The artists are the key. They are the link between the Beatles and the people in the seats.”|
|Show director Dominic Champagne|
By the end of the fourth week, the artist is hopefully ready to enter the show, though, she notes, “If an artist doesn’t feel ready for any reason, we take the time to make sure they feel safe and secure in what they’re called on to do.” Training for some artists can be even more complex. “A trampolinist will take anywhere from six to eight weeks before they’re on set jumping,” says head coach Dan Niehaus. In the meantime, they learn other show cues not specific to their profile skill, “which can be technical in nature, like setting a piece of apparatus or lending a hand to an act on stage.”
Once a part of the daily performance, “Love” artists often have training on show days for their specific skill with members of the show’s coaching team. Niehaus is responsible for the entire team, as well as hiring new acrobats, with the specifics of the ensemble handled by “Love’s’” resident show coach Gabriel Manta, who manages artist coaches and captains, who themselves work closely with the artists to keep their skills razor sharp.
On days when they have training, artists will arrive at 2 or 3 p.m., working with the coach for an hour or so after warming up. “We have a training for trampolinists every Thursday” — the beginning of “Love’s” show week — “to brush off the cobwebs from the weekend,” Meehan says. “That’s split up over Thursday, Saturday and Monday for house troupe acrobats, so we’re not all doing heavy trainings two or three days in a row,” with trampoline one day, teeterboard another, latex/bungee acrobatics another.
After training, artists work with personal trainers for continuous physical conditioning. “Our main priority is to keep them in shape, keep them healthy,” he says. “Not just for that night’s performance, but for the entire 476 shows each year.”
Artists will then break for a bite, and, at show call at 5:30 p.m., get into costume and makeup and check the night’s schedule for their “track.” The show lineup is put together by the coaches, the artistic director and stage manager late each afternoon, placing artists in “acts” (one Beatles song’s show piece) in which their specialty is used, or doing other cues.
“They monitor the hours that artists are in the show,” Renaud says. “We want to make sure we’re not burning people out, but also want to make sure we’re keeping our people in good shape. So it’s a fine balance.”
Adds Renaud: “There’s a lot of cross-training, so that when people are out sick or have life events, we’re not stuck with having to cut an acrobatic element from an act. There’s actually quite a domino effect when somebody is out — it’s a really interesting puzzle!”
During the 90-minute show, the artists are anything but static. “Most of them have a ritual of where they go, what they do, and who they talk to,” says Niehaus. “They’re changing, they’re in the training room warming up again. A lot of them come right off stage and come watch what they just did on video — looking at timing, their musicality, mistakes, things like that. And coaches will always go through that with them. Or they come off stage, warm up and move on to the next cue. It’s as much fun back stage as it is on stage, actually.”
The connection with The Beatles for the artists is always present — no more so than when members of the troupe had a visit to London in June for a special event, which included a visit to the group’s onetime homebase, Abbey Road Studios.
“There were the original pianos which were used by Paul McCartney on ‘Lady Madonna’ and ‘The Fool on the Hill,’” recalls Boutina, one of just a few artists who have been with “Love” since its opening. “I got goosebumps. It just made me realize that we’re part of keeping their legendary music alive. It’s a big privilege and one I’m very grateful for. It’s amazing.”