June 24, 2018
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Audience members to take stage with Cirque du Soleil — but don’t be afraid

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Cirque du Soleil arrived in Portland over the weekend — all 13 trucks and 3,000 colorful, handmade costumes — for its first Maine performances.

And for the local run of eight shows in five days, starting Wednesday night, some Mainers may find themselves taking center stage for the world famous touring troupe.

“There is definitely some audience participation — and more than you might expect,” said Maxime Charbonneau, the publicist on tour with Cirque’s Saltimbanco show.

For readers familiar with Cirque du Soleil’s reputation for high-flying acrobatics and 50-foot-tall stage equipment, that could be a thrilling — or terrifying — revelation about the group’s highly anticipated Maine debut.

Andrew Price, 23, from London, is one of Cirque’s acrobats, climbing towering poles with his bare hands and riding the 360-degree Russian swing. When asked what he might do during the audience participation portion of the show, which opens locally Wednesday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center, he smirked.

“I just sit backstage, watch the [television monitor] and laugh,” he said.

Charbonneau kept his cards close to the vest on what a member of the viewing public might do when called onto the effervescent multicolored stage, a playground for people with no fear of heights. But he did acknowledge the audience interaction would not put anyone’s life at risk.

“They don’t get involved in the acrobatics,” he admitted. “But there is a part of the show where the person from the audience spends about 10 minutes on stage.”

In a show where most of the performers’ individual segments are between 5 and 7 minutes long, that could make one average fan among the more prominent characters in Saltimbanco.

And unlike for the 51 on-stage performers traveling with the show, the audience member will likely have a few thousand willing understudies right nearby, if he or she chooses to bow out.

Charbonneau said the Cirque du Soleil group travels with no backups, despite the risk of injuries associated with flipping through the air 40 feet above the stage, or the potential risk of illness when visiting dozens of different countries with different cuisines all over the world.

He said there are 30 performers in what are considered the “house troupes,” who perform in groups doing acts such as the Chinese poles and bungees, and the remainder are “guest acts,” or main character performers who specialize in singing, contortionism or juggling, for instance.

If one of the main characters is injured or sick, sometimes there is a member of the house troupes who can switch costumes and play that role, Charbonneau said. If not, Cirque organizers must tweak the night’s script to exclude that main character’s segment, oftentimes filling the time slot with a secondary act by another of the healthy characters that wouldn’t have otherwise been included.

If a member of the house troupe is injured or sick, or must change roles to fill in a main character vacancy, the troupe choreography is changed to look symmetrical with one less body, Charbonneau said.

So, in addition to not having any literal safety nets when performing, the Cirque artists don’t have any figurative ones, either.

Luckily for whichever Maine audience members get called upon for moments in the Cirque spotlight this week, safety nets of either kind aren’t necessary during audience participation.

Cirque du Soleil will perform Oct. 10-14 at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Square. For tickets, visit ticketmaster.com.

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