The Bike Jump Story

[Ever since the start of this humble fanzine we call Fascination!, there’s a story I’ve been meaning to commit to paper. Now, for our third anniversary, here it is! -Keith J.]

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

The warm rubber of the trick bicycle’s rear wheel squealed as it repeatedly struck the floor, sidewalls bulging to absorb the weight of bike and rider. Landing again and again, I heard each bounce distinctively as I lie on the La Nouba stage less than a foot from this ersatz pogo stick.

How did I get myself into this? It wasn’t my fault, really!

Cirque has made a place in several of its shows for audience participation. David Shiner’s “Silent Movie” scene from Nouvelle Experience, Rene Bazinet’s “Gunslinger” scenario from Saltimbanco, or Francois Dupuis (Baby’s) hapless “Papa” from Mystere come quickly to mind. Almost every Cirque show has a place for a “real” or “fake” audience member to participate, even if only in the pre-show “animation”. It helps bring the audience further into the performance by making one of their own a part of Cirque’s magical world.

For La Nouba, that moment is the Bike Jump.

Doug White is a champion freestyle stunt bike rider, specializing in balancing and pogo-sticking his way over any obstacle in his path, preferably on one wheel. He along with Daniel Boyer performed the cycles act in La Nouba a few years back. It’s one of the more unusual skills in the Cirque canon, a variation on the equilibrist tradition displayed in other acts such as chair balancing or rola bola. But it’s one of the more popular acts with the savvy children in the kid-friendly environment of Walt Disney World.

It was December of 2000 when my wife (then-girlfriend) LouAnna and I took our long-awaited 12-day trip to Orlando. The entire visit was packed with activity, visits to all the big theme parks, and innumerable magic moments we shared together. And we made sure to snag tickets to La Nouba’s 6pm show on our last Saturday. We were looking forward to completing our slate of Cirque’s permanent shows.

The theater in Downtown Disney was impressive, with its high spires inspired by the circus tents of touring shows. We arrived anxious to see the show and dressed for the occasion, with LouAnna looking beautiful in a red blouse and black pants and I stylin’ in black slacks with a blood red dress shirt and long black tie. Together we looked as yuppie-ish as we might aspire to be, and would have fit in just fine at any of the hoity-toity bars in the complex.

The show proceeded flawlessly. The clowns, with their “box” animation routine were hilarious, and the wonders performed in front of our disbelieving eyes were everything we were expecting. The characters, including the four all-white Les Cons (The Nuts-played at the time by David Level, Justin Osbourne, and Pawel and Witek Biegaj) made the stage their playground.

Then, with a scream and the band powering into “Distorted,” the cycles blasted onto the stage.

We were curious as to how the cycles might be incorporated into the show. Both Doug and Darrel displayed unbelievable balancing skills, at one point ascending a set of stairs that appeared from below the stage, and at another with Doug ascending the stairwell between Sections 102 and 103, crossing behind the center section of seats, descending the red-carpeted stairs on the other side and making his way back onto the stage – all on his back wheel!

The Cons were taking all of this in with confusion and curiosity. Who can these wild men be, and why are they interfering in our universe? As the act progressed they became more bold, venturing closer to the bikers. Halfway through, in an act of defiance, one of the Cons lay flat at the front of the stage, flashing a look to Doug that he should attempt to jump over him. Doug, his face hidden behind a full BMX bike helmet, only glared down at the Con and continued to bounce on the rear wheel of his bike.

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

This confused the other three Cons – Why was he not jumping over their friend? They cogitated and sputtered over this unlikely development, scratching fingers over bald white pates while the biker continued menacing their comrade with his bike.

Then one of them got an idea. He raced down the stairs into the audience! The other two were now totally bewildered – here was one friend who had not been jumped over; while another was leaving the safety of the stage universe to venture into the “real world.” But the Con yelled at his two friends to join him, and with the urging of the Con lying at their feet (“Go! I don’t want to lie here forever,” he seemed to say) the other two ventured gingerly off the stage.

LouAnna and I watched this unfold with keen interest from our seats in the wheelchair-accessible section at the top of Section 104. Once reunited, the Cons raced up the stairwell between sections 103 and 104, then took a hard left and scurried up the main aisle toward our position. Now it was getting more interesting as they were getting closer and closer to us. What were they going to do? We were totally unprepared for what would happen next.

Stomping to a halt behind us, one Con pulled my chair back and to the left. He slipped his arms under my shoulders and proceeded to lift me up above his head! Another took one leg; the third took the other. Before LouAnna could protest (only managing a startled, “OH!” during the entire three seconds of the kidnapping) we were off!

I was now horizontal, lifted off the ground and being carried by the three Les Cons as the audience chuckled and applauded. Two spotlights focused their attention on us, blinding me with their bright warmth. I could feel the cloth of the Cons garments as it occasionally brushed against pieces of exposed skin, rustling with their efforts. They were breathing hard but didn’t seem to be overly exerting themselves; they had me firmly gripped in strong hands and arms. They didn’t speak, keeping up their mime persona. The smell of greasepaint and sweat emanated from them.

Confused for only the barest of moments, I quickly understood they were going to do something with me, but I couldn’t be sure what. But I played along, flailing my arms and legs in mock terror. I mimed a wordless scream and played it to the hilt, making eye contact and mouthing “Help me!” to any audience member I could. But the Cons moved quickly, descending the stairs they had come up mere moments before and retaking their place on stage, back comfortable in their home environment. They finally laid me on the stage floor to the right of their prone compadre, between him and the still-bouncing biker.

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

I sat up with feet straight out, face contorted in fear, still playing the terrorized patron. The stage floor was warm from the heat of lights and performance. The sound onstage was not as loud as I was expecting, the musicians playing the soft piano improv bit from the end of “Distorted.” I had expected the glare from the lights to be blinding, but I could see many of the faces in the audience staring back at me.

I was enjoying playing the part, and started to glance around the front of the audience when I felt two fingers press firmly on my forehead. It was the Con next to me cueing me what to do next. He only needed to press for a second until I got the point and lay prone on the warm stage as he had previously done. He quickly sidled up to me, snuggling his right side tightly against my left. The band played softer, tighter, as if ready to pounce.

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

I closed my eyes and tried to relax. I knew I was safe, but didn’t want to see it coming. My mind was racing – “This is *so cool*!” The Con lay close to me, motionless, waiting. The biker continued to pogo, getting ever more closer.

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

Something was wrong. Biker Doug took no action. I was perfectly still as was my new friend, yet still nothing. A second later the Con realized the problem and sat up, reaching over my stomach to tuck my right hand tightly under my butt. The biker wanted to get as close to me as possible and didn’t want to risk smashing fingers. After flashing the audience a bemused look that caused an eruption of laughter, he lay back down and snuggled close. The biker bobbled closer and closer, the squeaking of his tire becoming louder with each landing, each hit a tiny earthquake on the stage floor.

Bounce. Bounce…


With an audible grunt of effort Biker Doug launched himself, leaving behind a small breeze of air on my right. My closed eyes “saw” him rocket overhead as his body eclipsed the lights shining down. A split second later he landed with a THUMP! to the left of the Con. The band erupted in celebration and the audience broke into applause. He had
done it!

I opened my eyes and looked slightly to my left. The Con had quickly risen from his place next to me and offered his hand to help me rise from the stage. He had a strong pull and I was back on my feet in an instant. It was done, the stunt over. Next was something I never thought would happen. The Con looked at me, smiled and – spoke!

“Heyyy, gimme a hug!”

He wanted to welcome me to his fraternity of Les Cons. This threw me for a loop. I was NOT expecting him to speak! And for the first moment of the entire experience I didn’t know what to do (strange, since he had just told me!). I just stood there, staring at the Con with his silly grin. But he had handled people like me before. As the audience continued its applause he reached forward and hugged me. Again the strong smell of greasepaint mixed with sweat. I managed to move my arms enough to hug him back and we parted, he moving away to join his brotheren.

Yet the show continued, and here I was standing at the front of the stage, lights glaring at me, all alone. The Cons words had thrown me completely out of the moment, out of “character.” But I knew I had to get off the stage and back to my seat, preferably as soon as possible. It was also clear that I wasn’t about to be carried back in the way I had been brought down.

One of the spotlights was still on me, helpfully illuminating my way as I ran up the aisle, stooped over and trying not to be conspicuous (too late!). In retrospect, if I had my wits about me I would have gathered myself, brushed off my clothing, and only then “realize” I was on-stage and run up the stairs in mock horror. Such would have been the best “capper” to complete my “characters” experience. But all I could think about was sitting! So I hunkered down and slinked back to my seat, the spotlight following me obediently. With a quiet blink it was gone, and my moment in that special universe was over.

LouAnna stared at me with wide eyes. I was a mess – hair tousled, clothes ruffled, face flushed and sweaty, breathing hard from climbing the aisle steps two at a time. “I had *no idea* that was going to happen,” I assured her between breaths. In the darkness I composed myself and settled my racing heart. It had been quite an experience, and I concentrated for a moment to take in every detail. Out of the corner of my eye I could catch glimpses of other patrons occasionally looking at me – some with interest, others envy.

Eventually everything returned to normal and the rest of the show proceeded uneventfully. I thought that would be it, that I would leave as anonymously as I entered. But the surprises continued when, after the well-deserved standing ovation and the house lights had been raised, an usher presented me with a small placard. It was a “Disney
Magical Moment” certificate, given at the time to people who had been picked for various participatory things – skippering the Jungle Cruise boat, pulling the Sword out of the Stone, participating in a parade or show. For me it was “Bike Jump Stunt”, dated and signed by the WDWorld Resort president and a Cirque representative. A nice scrapbook-able keepsake memory, since there were no pictures allowed.

And, more surprisingly, my moment of stardom continued outside the theater, as a few people came up to ask if I was part of the show! Perhaps my clothing or “characterization” suggested to them I was an audience plant. But no, I was as normal as they could get.

Well, maybe a little more so. There might actually have been a reason the Les Cons chose me as their victim that night.

Truth be told, I had been introduced to the audience at an earlier point in the evening. And it was with the help of several of the kindest Disney and Cirque employees I have had the good fortune to meet. For during the Animation before the show I had the honor of proposing marriage to my lovely wife in front of a full house of 1,650 patrons, prior to the start of La Nouba. It was a moment neither of us will ever forget.

But that’s another story.