Behind the scenes of Cirque du Soleil

Cast members have trained together for so long that they have formed deep ties

It is 1pm on a Friday and just days before Cirque du Soleil's production of Totem opens here.

In one corner of the troupe's tent - the training and preparation area for the 46 cast members - three women are sewing sequins onto dazzling costumes and adjusting the mane on a mask.

Farther inside, a young man bounces 5m into the air on a pole held by two burly men, while another spins and jumps through hoops.

Elsewhere, a massage therapist is kneading the back of a cast member, while the sound of weights clinking and powerful roars can be heard at the other end.

The artistic tent - which includes a fully equipped training area, gym, dressing rooms, wardrobe area and physiotherapy room - stands alongside the trademark big top where the show takes place, the kitchen, entrance tent and offices housed in large steel containers.

  • BOOK IT / CIRQUE DU SOLEIL - TOTEM

  • WHERE: Bayfront Avenue, next to Marina Bay Sands

    WHEN: Till Dec 6, Tuesday to Sunday, various timings

    ADMISSION: $98 to $328 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

Welcome to Cirque du Soleil's mobile village, located next to Marina Bay Sands in Bayfront Avenue.

One of the troupe's 19 theatrical extravaganzas being shown this year, Totem - themed on the evolution of mankind - opened on Wednesday and runs till Dec 6.

When Life visited the village last Friday to peek behind the scenes, the mood was cheery and light.

The cast members practised at their own pace, either on their own or in small groups, stopping now and again to chat with others.

Says Eric Hernandez, 25, a hoop dancer who is in two of 11 acrobatic acts: "Besides rehearsals, we pretty much decide when we want to train and practise. Many of us have been in the Totem production for so long that we know what to do."

Since its premiere in 2010, Totem has been performed more than 1,600 times in 32 cities in seven countries including the United States, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Company manager Genevieve Deslandes says: "Our artists are professionals; they have competed in gymnastics or performed in circuses around the world. We can advise them on training routines, but most of them know exactly what their bodies need."

Our act is only about seven minutes, but warming up, practising and putting on make-up can take up to four hours before each show.

CANADIAN SARAH TESSIER, 24, who is one half of the fixed trapeze duo

Rehearsals for each act follow a specific schedule each week.

On average, the cast performs eight to 10 shows a week in each city. They travel from one place to another for most of the year with a support team of 72 technicians and other staff.

Each cast member is responsible for decorating his own face too.

Between cities, they get a break of one to two weeks, says Ms Deslandes. They also head home once or twice a year for two to three weeks.

The troupe is made up of performers from 17 countries including Belarus, China and Australia.

A performer might be on stage for less than 10 minutes during the 21/2-hour show but he spends hours training every day.

Canadian Sarah Tessier, 24, who is one half of the fixed trapeze duo, says: "Our act is only about seven minutes but warming up, practising and putting on make-up can take up to four hours before each show."

Cast members are disciplined in the maintenance of their bodies and perfecting their routines.

For Hernandez, his five hoops are always with him as he twiddles and spins them throughout the day. The American, who joined Cirque du Soleil in 2011, performs the mesmerising traditional hoop dance from his native American culture.

He says: "I started learning the dance when I was 10 to find out more about my roots and now I get to go on stage and share it with the rest of the world."

Tessier says it can be a challenge to do the same act over and over again. She has performed her routine more than 1,000 times.

She adds: "The repetition and staying alert can be tough, but knowing that it is the audience's first time seeing the act makes us give 100 per cent each time."

She and her partner, Frenchman Guilhem Cauchois, 26, perform a playful vertical dance, intertwining their bodies and engaging in heart-stopping moves in a game of seduction.

For the duo, it was a dream come true to join the world-renowned troupe. They both trained at the National Circus School in Montreal, Canada, and were selected for Cirque du Soleil in 2012.

While most of the performers have to go through auditions, Russian acrobat Nikita Moiseev was born into the troupe.

His father was a performer and the bubbly 20-year-old was conceived in 1995 during the tour of former production Alegria.

Moiseev is a part of the 10-men Russian bars act, which is being coached by his 58-year-old father.

In the act, the "flyers" perform complex flips and somersaults with ease, leaping from one bar to the next. Moiseev says with a chuckle: "I'm a circus baby. I grew up on the road and I have been performing since I was eight."

It is the only life he has known. "People ask me how this is different from a normal life, but this is what I consider normal," he adds.

He might have his father on tour with him, but the other cast members have become family too.

"We are one big happy family who support one another and have formed deep connections," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2015, with the headline 'Behind the scenes of Cirque du Soleil'. Print Edition | Subscribe