Cirque du Soleil's thrilling and moving shows

Creative ideas and stunning acrobatic movements come together to create unforgettable performances at Cirque du Soleil. A Horse Walks Into A Bar's author David Grossman and its English- language translator, Jessica Cohen.
Creative ideas and stunning acrobatic movements come together to create unforgettable performances at Cirque du Soleil.PHOTO: PATRICE LAMOUREUX

Audiences at Cirque du Soleil's shows laugh and even cry because of the beautiful, emotional performances

Standing ovations are a common occurrence at a Cirque du Soleil show and Volta is no exception.

The Montreal-based company's 41st original production, showing at the Old Port of Montreal under the iconic Big Top, is a mystically intoxicating performance not to be missed.

At the curtain call, there was a roar of applause as the entire audience stood up, an experience you do not get very often in theatres.

Volta is the story of Waz, a popular game-show host, seeking to reconnect with his inner self after being disillusioned by a life of fame and fortune. A riveting story sets the pretext for an incredible display of acrobatics, including seamlessly effortless parkour and an aerial dance by a female acrobat suspended from nothing but her hair.

Hearty laughter from the audience filled the air. Many sat on the edge of their seats and some shed a tear.

Mr Daniel Lamarre, president and chief executive officer of Cirque du Soleil, tells The Straits Times after the show that creating an emotional experience lies at the very core of a show. "If I want to connect with you, I have to show you a human being bringing a level of performance that will touch you, not only here, but will also touch you here," he says, pointing to this writer's head and heart.

Indeed, a Cirque performance blends two things to seamless perfection - creative vision and the visceral honesty of a human performance.

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At Cirque's International Headquarters in Montreal's Saint-Michel district, Ms Chantal Tremblay, a director of creation, talks about how she conceptualises a show.

Ms Tremblay, who has worked on many highly acclaimed titles such as Mystere, OVO and The Beatles Love, says artists at Cirque benefit from harnessing various disciplines. "It's a team, it's an evolution, it's teamwork" she explains.

She gives the example of a contortion act: Contortionists come with the expertise of their craft, who then train under coaches to design an acrobatic number. Simultaneously, music composers and costume designers draw inspiration from the artist's movement and personality to create their respective works.

She likens the process of creating a show to having a baby and underscores the importance of raising it with tender loving care.

"We're emotional because we've achieved this. You're emotional because it's beautiful" she says. "It's a human emotion and a human performance. You're working with athletes and people with emotions, and if you take care of that, you will give that emotion to the public."

Conveying emotion through a show can be a daunting task.

Cirque's selective auditions draw Olympic athletes and sporting professionals from around the world, but transforming athletes into performers is often a difficult process.

"It's very challenging because if they're coming from a purely sports background, we're introducing them to a completely new world," says Ms Caitlan Maggs, manager of artistic training at Cirque du Soleil.

Artists hoping to join a show must first complete an intensive induction camp at Cirque du Soleil's International Headquarters, where they undergo artistic training in addition to their acrobatic sessions.

"It's challenging, but also a lot of fun. When the artist discovers a new passion for the artistic aspect of performing, he is often very happy about developing that skill for his career," Ms Maggs adds.

Ms Stacy Clark, head of acrobatic casting and talent scout, says good showmanship is essential to making an impact in the theatre.

"When we put the package together with music, costumes, mise en scene and the presence of a human being in front of you, those are the moments that the audience takes away with them, combined with the wow factor," she adds.

Mr Lamarre emphasises the importance of preserving this essence while innovating to stay ahead of the competition. "That's why I'm spending so much time worrying about new technologies and being on the lookout," he says.

A glimpse of the future can be found in Cirque's foray into virtual reality, an experience that puts the viewer at the centre of a 360-degree immersive performance reimagined from the show KA.

With a virtual reality headset, you can even try the experience for yourself on YouTube.

In this way, a Cirque show connects to the audience using the universal language of emotion, a contributing factor to its global success and timeless appeal.

• Volta runs at the Old Port of Montreal from April 20 to July 23. Cirque du Soleil will also return to Singapore in July with Kooza, a 2007 show which pays homage to the art of clowning.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2017, with the headline 'Wowed and moved'. Print Edition | Subscribe