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Backstage with Cirque du Soleil: Running an arena show

RIO RANCHO – What started in 1984 with 22 street performers pushing the boundaries of acrobatics in Montreal and became an international phenomenon has made its way back to Rio Rancho.

A Cirque du Soleil performer practices her routine before going onstage for the April 11 performance of “Corteo,” a story about a clown witnessing his own funeral. (Stephen Montoya/Rio Rancho Observer)

Cirque du Soleil’s arena production of “Corteo” finished its run earlier this month in Rio Rancho at the Santa Ana Star Center. The storyline centered on a clown who pictures his own funeral taking place in a carnival atmosphere, watched over by caring angels.

The stage design was a bit different for those familiar with Cirque. “Corteo” is open on two sides and has a rotating circular stage at its center.

According to a news release, the cast of “Corteo” consists of 51 acrobats, musicians, singers and actors from all around the world.

Maxwell Batista, Cirque du Soleil publicist, said the troupe is running 20 productions throughout the world now.

A Cirque du Soleil performer jumps from bed to bed in the company’s performance of “Corteo.” (Stephen Montoya/Rio Rancher Observer)

“I know the description is about a funeral, but this show is actually a celebration of life,” Batista said during a backstage tour recently. “Think about a movie you may have seen when someone is about to die and they have a flashback on their lives; this is what you will see in ‘Corteo.'”

As Batista took a group of journalists and writers throughout the backstage workings, he laid down facts about how a moving show like Cirque works.

“It usually takes one day to set up the stage for a show, and it takes 3 ½ hours to break it down into 21 trucks before we move to the next place,” he said.

The floor of the stage, he said, is like a huge puzzle made out of 272 pieces. Batista said this show has over 2,000 costumes, which all get washed and modified every day.

“It takes 1½ semitrucks just to carry the costumes,” he said.

It takes 100 people to set up the stage and break it down in every city, he said.

As for accidents that may occur during a performance, Batista said, each person on the crew has been certified as an emergency medical technician, carries gloves and is ready to render aid at a moment’s notice.

“We all practice safety first,” he said. “The performers practice the tricks and warm up during the day so they can entertain an audience for two hours at a time. This also adds to the safety element.”

If a performer has health problems, Batista said, extra portions of the show can fill in the gaps when these acrobats would usually perform.

“The cast and crew are everyday people who have the same issues as everyone else, so we make accommodations to make sure the show continues,” he said.

Besides having health equipment backstage, six washers and two dryers go on the road with Cirque. In the costume department, a full-time staff dry-cleans, washes and sews each outfit for that night’s performance.

“The shoes always get scuffed during every performance, so we carry paint with us and repaint each pair of shoes so they look new every night,” Batista said.

All of the performers, he said, are responsible for their own makeup, acting classes and diet. Although a catering service travels with the group, each member has to choose what to eat.

“We live on the road and have a few days off in each city we travel to, but on performance days, we stay busy,” he said. “The road can be hard, but it also comes with its rewards.”