The Mysterious World of Cirque Du Soleil: Behind the Magic

Cirque du Soleil is a Canadian entertainment company and the world’s largest theater production company. Known as Canada’s “National Treasure,” it is the fastest growing, highest-earning and most popular art group in the world today. Corteo is a centerpiece play from Cirque that combines elegant aerial acrobatics and shocking theatrical performances. “Corteo” means “cortege” in Italian, which means a process of joy and refers to a happy team imagined by the clown, Mauro, who envisions that his own burial will take place amid a carnival atmosphere and be attended by tender angels. The show contrasts the grand with the intimate, the silly with the tragic, and the beauty of perfection with the appeal of imperfection. It also emphasizes the strength and vulnerability of the clown as well as his knowledge and generosity to represent the aspect of humanity that exists in each of us. Corteo is guided through a timeless ceremony in which fantasy teases reality with music, which is both poetic and mischievous. This drama brings theater fans the joy and fun that belongs to the theater world, as well as being in a mysterious space between heaven and earth.

The Corteo – Cirque Du Soleil World Tour came to Boston last month. . Sampan had the exclusive opportunity to get a first look at the stage, cast rehearsal, costume room, and a backstage tour with Props Technician Kevin Chuang before the their premiere show at the Agganis Arena. Chuang, born in Hong Kong, graduated from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, majoring in props. He recalls his origin story:

“It was a Cirque Du Soleil Asia tour in Macau. I saw an internal recruitment for a prop technician, so I applied immediately, because there happened to be more than 10 acrobats from mainland China at that time. I speak Mandarin, Cantonese and English fluently and can help actors and staff to communicate better. I was lucky to get the job at that time, and this is how I started my journey with Cirque du Soleil. It has now been for 13 years.

I remember one time in North America, there were some problems with the prop truck. The truck arrived at the scene only two hours before the performance, which required the whole team to work well together, under high pressure and a tight schedule to build the stage and get ready with all the props. We usually need to check all the props at least 2-3 hours before the performance. Like the premiere show at 7 o’clock tonight, the team had to prepare in advance – we arrived at 10 o’clock this morning.

Every time we tour different places, we have to make some adjustments depending on the venue. With a show like tonight in an Arena, the props department will merge with the carpentry department, about 5-6 people. The carpentry department is responsible for building the stage and the screen, and the props department is only me this time.

Corteo – Cirque Du Soleil has about 120 participants in total, and there are about 50 actors, 34 professional athletes, some are Olympic level, representing 27 nationalities and 17 languages. About 20-30 are backstage technicians, basically divided into props, carpentry, sounds, lighting, wagging, trapeze, chefs, costumes, stage management, office assistant, etc. Every department needs to be responsible for its own work to ensure that every detail is close to perfect. The most important thing between the different departments is trust and that they do not delay each other.

Our crew members are from different countries and we often travel to different places and cities. I need to adapt to a new environment and working styles. I like meeting people from different backgrounds, learning languages, enjoying food and experiencing various cultures. After a few years of touring, many crew members will join different shows or tours. I am lucky to have made some great friends over the years.

A few years ago, Cirque du Soleil toured back to my hometown – Hong Kong. It was the first time my family and friends came to see the show. I was very proud to show them my work. There are not many crew members who come from Hong Kong and can tour with Cirque du Soleil, maybe only about 5 people from the Hong Kong area.

Every time I call my family, they always ask me when I will be back home. I miss them so much! My family sees I am doing the things I love so they are all very supportive. Usually after a twelve week tour, we will get about a 2 week break, and the manager will arrange for us to travel home. After the tour in the U.S, we will go to Mexico in October. My plan is to visit my family after that. Hopefully I can buy a ticket that only stops at two places, but most likely need to transfer three times to be able to get back to Hong Kong.”

During the past two years of the pandemic, the tour was paused. Until April last year, the Corteo – Cirque Du Soleil team started rehearsing for a month in Croatia and Australia, and then continued the tour in Europe.

Chuang continued: “Corteo is a show that leads the audience into a magical world and temporarily away from reality. The staff behind the scenes are like magicians, presenting fantasy and joy in the best way. I love my job, I don’t feel like I’m working at all, I enjoy it every single day! It’s amazing to be able to be part of creating a magical world and be able to present on the stage. When you hear the laughter and applause, you know that you have accomplished your goal. We set up the stage in the middle and will divide the audience into two sides in Agganis Arena, which is very close to how we stage our big screen show. The acrobats, the actors and the musicians work very well together – it is… perfect. Corteo will tour in the U.S this year and I hope everyone will come to enjoy it.

We celebrated the 18th anniversary of Corteo – Cirque Du Soleil two weeks ago. We ate, sang and danced together. Every dream will have a beginning and an end, and I am very lucky to live in one of them every day.”

{ SOURCE: Dongdong Yang; Sampan }