Cirque Du Soleil’s shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall (6 Jan-8 Feb) with their trademark mix of clowning with spectacular acrobatic acts, have become as much of a new year tradition as fireworks over the River Thames.
With a return of Kooza, many old circus favourites are updated, from hoop spinners and contortionists to trapeze artists and high-wire acts. Others are Cirque specialties: in the heart-in-mouth Wheel Of Death, two performers leap in and out of two giant hamster wheels spinning on each end of a vast, rotating pendulum; the thrilling teeterboard act that closes the show is like a giant seesaw in which one performer stands at one end, and is sent hurtling through the air when two others jump on to the other end. On stilts.
Having recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, Cirque has played to nearly 150 million people on six continents, with revenues approaching $1 billion a year. So what is it like to run off and join the circus? We asked two Cirque veterans and one newcomer.
Igor Karpov, 37, Head Acrobatics Coach
It is breathtaking, unbelievable. You cannot describe it in words. I’ve been a gymnast since I was six years old—I was in the Russian junior squad, then I moved to England when I was 18 and lived there for 13 years. I got a wrist injury, so ended up doing a lot of coaching at different clubs. In 2008, I got a call from Cirque Du Soleil. I’d wanted to work with them ever since seeing Alegría six years before.
Joey Arrigo, 22, 'The Trickster'
I’ve been working in dance my whole life, and choreographing since I was 16, but I’ve always wanted to be a part of this company. I saw my first Cirque show at 12, and I just love the aspect of magic it brings to the stage. It turns circus into a Broadway show. Every day is different. Take today: we’ve got one show tonight [in Germany] at 7.30 pm. It’s now 3 pm, and I got here half an hour ago and started warming up; soon I’ll go to physio for strengthening exercises. Today I’m also running my weekly ballet class. Then we have our weekly Tapis Rouge [“red carpet”] meeting, where the company shares information. Then the show!
Stephan Landry, 46, 'The Innocent'
I’ve been with Kooza for eight years now—more than 2,000 shows—and I’m still in love with my character and the show! Before that, I was doing a lot of improvised comedy and theatre. I went to an audition weekend for clowns, and there were 50 people there at the beginning; every two hours they were cutting more people out. I made it through, so I was in the casting bank, but it still took three years, until 2007, to get Kooza.
I don’t need to do a lot of preparation—I don’t do much physical stuff on stage, except at one point where I have 12 people pushing me up into the air. I put my make-up on two hours before the show, and leave myself half an hour in which to focus. I also love photography and have eight years of backstage photos from all round the world.
For me, playing at the Royal Albert Hall is a privilege. With its domed roof, it’s like a cross between a circus tent and the Rome Colosseum!
See Kooza 6 January to 8 February at the Royal Albert Hall.
For more info visit the Royal Albert Hall website.