The super-troupe Cirque du Soleil is the face of cutting-edge circus performances, where outlandish acrobats, aerial acts and dazzling costumes make for a jaw-dropping act. Each year London plays host to Cirque’s latest performance, usually held at the Royal Albert Hall (to 4 Mar).
For the UK debut of Ovo, bringing creepy-crawlies to the stage, we chat to one of its stars.
Set to a score of Brazilian samba and Portuguese tunes, Ovo delves into a kingdom of insects. It buzzes with life as ants juggle fruit, a spider hangs from a web and butterflies flit across the stage. Dragonflies, fireflies, cockroaches and crickets, meanwhile, perform contortion, trapeze and trampoline acts, catch diabolos and balance on slackwires.
Ovo—meaning egg in Portuguese—covers a day in the life of an insect as The Foreigner, a fly from a foreign land, brings a mysterious egg with him. It’s also a love story between The Foreigner and a ladybird.
Londoner Alanna Baker, crowned European gymnastics champion in 2011 plus a bronze medal at the 2012 World Championships, is the only performer from the UK. After seeing a show at the Royal Albert Hall aged eight, Baker told her parents she wanted to perform. Now, 18 years later, she’s returning to play a character known as the Black Spider.
“The underlying story is that everyone is equal, everyone should be accepted for who they are regardless of their shape, size, colour, race or age,’ she explains. “As insects, we welcome the foreign object—The Foreigner—into our community.”
Cirque du Soleil is at the top of its game, but does anything ever go wrong? “There are always bloopers that only we notice. When I first joined, I fell off a wall. I was holding a top grip when I slipped and fell. Luckily I was OK; I fell on a trampoline, ran off and no one noticed—not even my artistic director.”
“Once, a couple of performers got their straps stuck, so they were hanging there until I got them down” Baker continues. “Another time, a new guy couldn’t get up a ramp. He got stuck and kept tripping up over his feet. It wasn’t funny at the time, but now we look back and laugh. We joked we’ll get a mistake jar, and put in a pound coin every time we make a mistake, then treat the group to dinner with the takings.”
If you’ve seen other Cirque du Soleil shows, you’ll know the performers are experts at what they do. But why should you see this show?
“We’ve added projections and swinging poles, so there’s much more involvement with the audience,’ Baker says. ‘Our performers also walk into the audience to ensure that they’re involved with us.’
Baker’s favourite scene is when the butterflies swoop and land and leap and fly in perfect unison. "It’s so elegant, effortless and pleasing to the eye," she says. "With projections behind them and smoke underneath them, everything comes together. The two incredible acrobats and artists have both been circus acts for eight years and work really well together, so it’s a beautiful, strong act to watch."
"The wall act is also impressive, with crickets on trampolines and spiders on the wall performing gravity-defying feats 4.5m (15ft) above the ground. Wherever you’re sitting, you get a good view; if you’re at the front you see the wall, and from the side you see the air track better. It’s so energetic, and such a bang to finish the show with!"