The creatively elegant and expertly skilled show under the big top is coming back to Denver, and this time, the creators of Cirque du Soleil have a new tale that they are sure will take our breath away.
Corteo is the story of a clown, Mauro, who has passed away, yet his spirit is celebrated and gloriously lives on. With all of the elements of aerial acts, frolicking tumblers, and entertaining players who juggle and bend, this show is determined to transport the audience through the festive cortege.
The show is preparing to make its way to Denver’s Pepsi Center for the seven-day run from August 15-22, and OUT FRONT sat with juggler Johan Juslin, gymnast Betsy Zander, and senior publicist Max Batista to get to know more about Corteo, life in a traveling circus, and how diversity that is embraced by Cirque worldwide.
The show is on the road right now; how is the tour going, and where have been recently?
Max Batista: We’re in from Florida right now; we came to Denver only for a day of promotion to let people know that we’re coming to the Pepsi Center. We performed last week in South Carolina and then flew to Florida; our show is being set up right now, and we have our premiere tomorrow.
How does the touring aspect impact or play a role in your performance?
Betsy Zander: It’s kind of our lifestyle at this point, so we’re pretty used to picking up every Sunday or Monday and traveling to the next city. It comes with the job, so we’re used to it, but it’s our responsibility to recover and take care of ourselves and be ready for the show.
What made you want to be a performer with Cirque, and how long have you been with the company?
Johan Juslin: For me, everything started 17 years ago; I saw Cirque du Soleil on TV, and a juggler in the show was just amazing. Something brought in my mind that I had to start juggling, and I picked up three tennis balls, went to my backyard, and started practicing, and I’ve been doing it since then. I’ve been with the company since October of 2017.
Zander: I started gymnastics when I was three and graduated from University from a division-one school in Washington, D.C., and I saw my first Cirque show when I was a freshman in school. I was still competing at the time for college and so after I graduated, I auditioned and made my way in. This is my third year and second show.
After having worked with Cirque, is it what you imagined?
Juslin: There are good things that I imagined, and this is what I want to do of course, but when you start to see how the company works and everything, there’s actually more to it than what you see from the audience perspective. When I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil before, I’m only seeing what’s happening onstage, but when you think about all the things, like with the traveling and everyone who’s with us on tour, all these small things and details, there’s much more to it.
Zander: Yeah, it’s such a big company, and it’s so well known, especially around the world. To be an acrobat, if you haven’t heard of Cirque du Soleil, it’s surprising. So, to be able to work for such a prestigious company is a real honor.
What is the career trajectory for someone who is in your line of work?
Zander: Depends on what you do within the show. So, me being from a gymnastics background, it’s different than say a juggler; juggling has more of a life span in the acrobatic world than somebody that (flips around) all day, every day.
What makes the show Corteo stand out from the other Cirque shows?
Batista: Every Cirque show is very different, because there is a story to be told in every performance, and we currently have 20 different productions all over the world being performed at the same time. We have a clown telling his own story, and he’s dreaming about his own funeral, and we’re going to see him going through all the best moments and memories of his life, like when he was a kid and used to plan his bed, pretending it was a trampoline. You see four acrobats, like Betsy, jumping from bed to bed doing some high-level, acrobatic tricks. Throughout the show, you see many different circus acts, because it’s a tribute to the traditional circus as well. It’s a show where the audience would be able to connect and have a mix of feelings, and I’m pretty sure that everyone will have a great time from the beginning to the end.
When it comes to team creating a new show, what is involved in that process?
Batista: It can take about three years; we have the creator of the show and a group of designers who work together for at least a year designing the set, designing the makeup and the costumes. Then, in the second year, we have the artists join the creation process as some of the performers come with some skills from gymnastics, for example, but they need to adapt to a specific act or learn a new skill to create the new act. So, it can take about two years from the moment they come up with the main concept until the premiere of the show.
As a performer, what skills did you need to adapt or learn for Corteo?
Zander: There is a trampoline bed, an apparatus that they’ve developed specifically for this show. It’s a trampoline that’s set into a bed frame. So, we use a mix between trampoline skills and trample-wall skills. Coming from a gymnastics background, taking the skills that I have from that and adapting it to a piece of equipment that nobody’s ever seen before, that’s something that you have to do as the acrobat and figure out how to make it work, because this is the vision.
Juslin: Working with two other partners, we do a three person juggling act, and we all have solo backgrounds and haven’t really worked with other people. Us three together, we have to make a four-and-a-half-minute act on stage doing some passing stuff. That was an interesting challenge in a way and an interesting process.
How much room do you have as a performer to interpret or change some of the movement in an act?
Batista: One thing is that there’s a story to be told, so the tricks are rehearsed, and they have the cues to follow, but there’s a lot of freedom as well on this show, because they’re human beings, and they bring a little bit of their themselves to the show. Juggling, for example, they have the tricks, so if they want to adapt something, they have to rehearse on stage with full show conditions. But every day is different, and there is a lot of improvisation; someone might be a little bit faster, a little bit slower, and there is a lot of acting. They need to adapt every time.
From a historical aspect, circuses have tended to capitalize on the queer and disabled communities, so with Cirque du Soleil being a part of the new era of circuses, how do you provide a space where all audiences feel welcomed?
One of the most amazing things about being part of this company is that we have people from all over the world with different backgrounds, different ways of living, different ways of dealing with anything in life; we have the most mixed group you could ever imagine. We have 1500 artists in this company plus another 4000 people working backstage and in our offices all over the world. For us, it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from or who you are; what is important for us as a company is that you’re able to help us to tell a story and bring joy to people that come to see the show.