One of the most fascinating – and exciting – things I’ve done recently was seeing behind the scenes of Cirque de Soleil’s newest production, KOOZA which is at the Royal Albert Hall at present, and soon to be presented in Bern, Switzerland from February 28th. Presented as a return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil, KOOZA combines two circus traditions – acrobatic performance and the art of clowning.
It tells the story of The Innocent, a melancholy loner in search of his place in the world, bringing him into contact with an array of comic characters such as the King, the Trickster, the Clowns, and the Bad Dog, whilst . exploring themes of fear, identity, recognition and power.
We started our tour in the auditorium, watching a rehearsal of one of the acts that provides a back up if one of the main scheduled acts cannot perform.
These acrobats are in no way second best: watching a member of the company circle the stage inside a metal ring with nothing holding him taut against its confines but his own muscles was extraordinary.
Jawdropping as the act was to watch, it’s when you go backstage from the auditorium that the sheer scale of Cirque de Soleil really starts to sink in. The stats alone are breathtaking: The company, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014, has performed to over 150 million spectators in more than 300 cities on six continents. Cirque du Soleil has close to 4,000 employees, including 1,300 performing artists from close to 50 different countries.
Performing at The Royal Albert Hall, a Victorian venue brought creaking into the 21st century presents its own specific challenges to a company that travels with everything it needs in giant shipping containers, from costumes and computers, via catering supplies and cameras.
More used to performing in a giant tent, with another for backstage, the company is spread around the circular hall, with props, costumes and equipments stored strategically in corridors and even in the Green Room – as here below.
Around every curve of the backstage corridors that encircle the auditorium is something else to wonder or exclaim over.
I was particularly taken by the rats.
We came across these cap stands en route to wardrobe.
Even though very few members of the audience would ever get up close to the acrobats, every detail of the costumes is exquisite in close up.
We paid an extended visit to the wardrobe department. When a performer joins the company they are sent to Montreal, the home of Cirque, to be measured for every element of their costumes, and these are made and constructed there before being sent to the performer’s show, wherever in the world it might be.
On the road the wardrobe department’s fifty two shipping containers don’t just contain costumes, but the entire kit and caboodle necessary to keep those costumes in perfect working order. Everything travels within its own travel cases (as above).
No mean feat when a loose thread or split costume could literally mean the difference between life and death for an acrobat dangling metres over the audience’s head.
And when you discover that this one costume made from ostrich feathers requires its own full size (but very lightweight) case, you start to understand why the wardrobe department requires so much space when travelling.
The costumes themselves are fascinating: these convincing jewels sewn on to a velvet catsuit are made from lightweight, stretchy plastic to allow the contortionists to move their bodies.
Every scale on this suit is being hand pressed to stop them curling up.
Cirque de Soleil LOVES a Swarovski crystal.
Back in the corridors, we come across more equipment.
Upstairs, in the very top tier of the auditorium, a backstage warm up area has been constructed temporarily for the acrobats.
This is the teeter board acrobatic troupe warming up for rehearsal, many feet above their stage. (The teeterboard is an acrobatic apparatus that resembles a very springy playground seesaw.)
We walked past them, round a corner, and peered over the balcony to this view over the stage.
These are the acoustic baffles in the ceiling of the Hall.
We went back downstairs to watch the Russian and Mongolian acrobats rehearse on the teeterboard, all warmed up from their game of volleyball.
With our hearts in our mouths, we watched them fling each other higher and higher into the air. In rehearsal they are jawdropping, in performance sublime.
For more information please visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/kooza
Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP.
Box Office: 0845 401 5045 or +44 20 7589 8212