Kooza's Trickster is living his childhood dream

American performer Derek Piquette (left) is the Trickster (above) in Cirque du Soleil's Kooza.
American performer Derek Piquette (above) is the Trickster in Cirque du Soleil's Kooza.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
American performer Derek Piquette (left) is the Trickster (above) in Cirque du Soleil's Kooza.
American performer Derek Piquette is the Trickster (above) in Cirque du Soleil's Kooza.PHOTO: CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

Dancer Derek Piquette, 20, has already realised his life goals - to be on reality show So You Think You Can Dance and to be a Cirque du Soleil performer

In a few hours, it is showtime for Cirque du Soleil's Kooza.

Fresh-faced American performer Derek Piquette is a figure of calm as the training area becomes more and more crowded with other performers.

As the lead character of the Trickster, a magnetic ringmaster of sorts, he leads another character, the Innocent - and the audience - through the wondrous world of Kooza, a show with death-defying acrobatics and clowns.

"The role of the Trickster is not only to look over the Innocent, but also to keep him on his toes and mess around with him," Piquette tells The Straits Times.

Throughout the show, which runs at the blue-and-yellow chapiteau tents at Marina Bay Sands till Aug 27, the Trickster is a constant presence who, with a flick of his finger, makes acrobats fly through the air.

Without the dramatic painted face and demeanour of the Trickster, Piquette is an unassuming 20-year-old trained dancer who got his big break on Season 12 of American dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance. He was placed in the top four and went on tour with the show, performing in 70 cities across North America.

At only 20 years old, the boy from the small town of Chicopee, Massachusetts, has already realised his life goals.

"I had two goals - to be on So You Think You Can Dance and to be in a Cirque show. What am I supposed to do now?" says the professional dancer in mock desperation.

He lived in Miami, Florida, from the age of 16 to 18, training 60 to 70 hours a week. He moved on to tour with dance companies before competing on the reality show.

He has played the role of the Trickster, his first job with Canadian mega circus Cirque du Soleil, only since May this year.

This was after going through Cirque's famously rigorous auditioning process in August last year to be part of its database of performers.

He got the call to be part of the Australian leg of Kooza , which preceded the Singapore shows, and hit the road immediately.

He is one of two performers to play the Trickster in Singapore. The other is fellow American Mike Tyus, who returns to the role this week following an injury.

They take turns playing the character to save their bodies from the injuries arising from the stresses of performing. Piquette has not seen Tyus perform, but he feels they would play the role very differently.

"I'm excited to see his version because I'll pull from that for inspiration too," he says.

To transform into the Trickster, he has to endure an hour-long make-up process as well as get into intricate but stuffy costumes, complete with a bejewelled skeleton mask he can barely see out of.

"With the heat in Singapore, it's harder to perform and everything feels heavier ," he says.

Still, the most challenging part of the role for him is embodying the character for the entire 21/2-hour show.

He says: "A lot of dancers will go on stage and the second they walk offstage, the character is gone, but my character has to be on the whole time and that can be pretty hard mentally."

To stay in the role, he admits that he is "really quiet during the show" and stays backstage in the dark, keeping to himself. But he is still human. "I do check my phone from time to time, during intermission and stuff," he says with a laugh.

He also relishes the flexibility the role affords him and says it is a "fun challenge". "There is no set way to play the Trickster, there is only set staging for where I have to be during certain parts of the show," he says.

"If I wanted to change a jump or a flip, take something out or make it harder for myself, I have those options ."

Compared to performing live on television to millions of viewers or to crowds of thousands while on tour, he says that "being in the Big Top is so intimate because I can pretty much see everyone's face".

It is a full circle moment for Piquette.

"Last week, I looked at a kid in the front row looking back at me with his face lit up," he says. "I was that kid at one point 10 years ago and it makes me cry every night."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Trickster has it all'. Print Edition | Subscribe