Fierce Females Rule as Cirque de Soleil Comes to Calgary

Written by Laura Bridgman for CLUBLIFE Magazine.

They fly through the air with the greatest of ease, but for the cast members of Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna it took months of preparation and hours of training before the show could premiere.

“Before the show started, we were in technical training on the teeterboard for two hours a day, five days a week,” said teeterboard performer Maxime Sabourin. “For a few months, it was just technical training to get used to the apparatus and to feel comfortable and safe on it. After a few months, we choreographed our act through training and research to build something dynamic and make a six-minute act that is very fluid and fun to watch.”

The teeterboard looks like a seesaw you’d find in a playground. The wood board has a pivot in the middle and works like a catapult.

“One person jumps and when they land it makes the person on the other side jump; we just go back and forth like that,” said Maxime. “We rely 100% on the person in front of us. If that person falls, you fall. Communication and working with your partners is key. We train a lot and we go high; it can go as high as a trampoline.”

Where a competitive trampoline surface is 7 feet x 14 feet in size, the teeterboard landing area is not even a two-foot square. It requires precision to land exactly where you take off.

Before Amaluna, Maxime was not a master of teeterboard. The Quebec native’s background is in trampoline, a discipline he began at 12 years old and did competitively at the national level until 2010.

“I was hired with a small acrobatic company called Les Productions Haut-Vol. I was in college at that time, so I did it as a summer job and really got into it,” said Maxime. “I really started to enjoy performing even more than competing. When you compete you work so hard to present your routine to judges who look at you with very straight faces and give you marks, but when you perform you are in front of an audience that claps for you and is really happy to see you. That’s what I really like about performing.”

The experience he gained earned him a contract with Cirque du Soleil. For each show, Maxime must pull from his performance background, as Amaluna requires the cast to be actors as well as athletes.

Shakespeare fans will connect with the storyline, as it loosely follows The Tempest. The audience is welcomed to an island ruled by goddesses and guided by the moon cycles. Prospera, the queen, causes a storm while directing her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony that washes a group of young men up on the island. Prospera’s daughter falls for one of these men, but their love is put to the test throughout the show.

Maxime and his fellow teeterboard performers are among the only men in a cast made of approximately 70% women. Held prisoner by the Amazons, the men launch themselves high into the air, twisting and turning in a playful high-speed act and pull off several seemingly impossible feats, like landing in a handstand on another performer’s upturned palms.

“We have been captured by the amazon girls, and we are trying to impress them and seduce them with our tricks so they will release us from our prison,” explained Maxime. “We are really pushing and playing around; it’s a very dynamic and very acrobatic act.”

Controlling the fate of the shipwrecked men is Lindsey Bruck Ayotte, Captain of the Amazons – the fierce females on the island. The University of Michigan graduate was an all-around gymnast, but her strengths were in the uneven bars and balance beam.

“That kind of worked out in my favour because the Amazon act I do is on uneven bars,” mentions Lindsey. “I say that, but our act is different. It has bars that are far apart like they are nowadays, but we also bring back the style of Nadia Comăneci where the bars are close. It’s exciting and it’s a way for us to do gymnastics that we’ve never done before.”

The Amazons show off their strength and power in a fast-paced routine on four different bars – two high, two low. The act has seven ladies monkeying around and intertwining on the apparatus doing different tricks with up to five Amazons on the structure spinning around at the same time.

With eight to 10 shows a week, the performers need to stay in peak physical condition and learn to balance technical training, exercise and rest.

“We are in technical training one to three hours during a show week, and do a 20-minute warm up before we go on for our act,” said Lindsey.

“We also need to make sure we are taking care of our bodies. We go to physio if we have little things that are nagging, we get lots of rest, and make sure we eat properly.

“It’s about listening to our bodies and being smart about what we do.”

For the Amazon act, Lindsey only needs to maintain her current physique, not continually become stronger. She does Pilates and a bit of yoga and because the uneven bars are very shoulder related, she does extra exercises to keep her shoulders strong, stable, and in the right spot.

“Also, lots of stretching and cooling down after the act,” she adds.

Though the training and performing schedule can be tough, neither cast member could dream of doing anything else.

Lindsey loves being able to show the audience a different side of acrobatics and says, “every day I’m in awe of the Big Top and the people I work with. I have so much fun doing what I do.”

Maxime adds, “It’s like being a rock star. You wake up and all you think about is your performance and getting ready. It’s about you and doing what you like the most. It’s fun.”

Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna is under the Big Top at Stampede Park from April 10 to May 19, before the cast visits Edmonton (May 29-June 16 at Northland Park) and Denver, CO (July 18-August 11 at Pepsi Center Grounds).