Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: Family Fusion with Cirque du Soleil's Saltimbanco

It’s difficult to describe the stories and characters you’ll see in a Cirque du Soleil production, even if you know their background. That’s because for decades, the "Circus of the Sun" has produced jaw-dropping spectacles full of color, light, acrobatic genius and dreamlike costumes that take you to worlds only they can produce.

Saltimbanco, currently on national tour and scheduled to land at Glendale's Jobing.com Arena July 29 through August 2, is the longest-running Cirque du Soleil production, having opened in 1992, and has now been recreated for arenas and other large venues. Cirque du Soleil describes Saltimbanco as “a celebration of life and an antidote to the violence and despair so prevalent in the world today.” Characters with names like “Masked Worms,” “The Baroques,” “The Cavaliers” and “The Songbird” burst onto the stage, while “The Baron,” “The Dreamer” and “Death” also control the action. Expect to be amazed, as the performers fly, dance and juggle, among other dazzling feats.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Michael O’Campo, the head coach of Saltimbanco, and he explained what makes the show so special. “Saltimbanco really brings Cirque du Soleil back to its roots. It’s very colorful, it’s very bright and it’s very upbeat, and includes everything that the other shows have, the high level of acrobatics, the live musicians, the live singers, the great costumes and choreography."

I asked him how he would describe the “story” of Saltimbanco, and he replied, “There’s the idea of family — you’re going to see a family number at the beginning of the show. There’s also the idea or the theme of evolution — the characters in Saltimbanco evolve from the beginning of the show until the end, starting out with what we call the “Multicolored Worms” because they’re the most basic, most animal-like of the characters,” who become the “Masked Worms,” who represent everyday nine-to-five people. “In the second half, they evolve again into “The Baroques,” who are the more Bohemian, do-what-they-like characters, and finally the evolution ends with “The Angels,” who perform the bungee number at the end of the show. They’re the more evolved, spiritually enlightened characters.

O’Campo considers Saltimbanco very special to him because it was the first Cirque du Soleil show he ever saw, and he performed the Chinese poles, Russian swing and bungee work in the show for five years. “The bungee number at the end with the angels is really a number that I love,” he said. “I performed in that number and now to watch it and to coach it … it’s really beautiful. It’s very moving.”

The new arena version of the show allows the company to visit many more venues across the country, as opposed to the big top productions, which typically stay around six weeks at a time in select cities. “Moving every week can be difficult and draining for the acrobats, so what we’ve done is to perform for 10 weeks at a time and then have a two-week break, which seems to allow for the acrobats to have a good recovery. Everything gets put up in eight hours and taken down in two,” he said.

The Windsor, Ontario, native has lived in Montreal for the past eight years, and he feels fortunate that his husband Michael is on the tour as well, serving as the road manager. The couple met in 1998 and married in 2004. They spend most of their breaks back in Montreal, and then rejoin the 90-member cast and crew on the road again.

I asked O’Campo what he wanted readers to know about Saltimbanco, and he replied, “Like any Cirque du Soleil show, what they’re going to see is just absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring, and they will be sitting at the edge of their seats. I think that one of the things to know is that every single Cirque du Soleil show is different, so even if they’ve seen some in Las Vegas, this one is very different from any show they’ve seen in the past.

“This one is very upbeat and very colorful, and really, really a lot of fun. This is a really good one to see if you’ve never seen Cirque du Soleil before — it’s a really great introduction. And even if you have seen them before, it’s a really good one because it brings you back to the Cirque du Soleil roots.”

Click here for a video preview of Saltimbanco.

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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