Hanging on by a Hair

For as long as she can remember, acrobat Charlotte O’Sullivan knew she would be a performer — she just wasn’t sure in what capacity.

“Maybe I didn’t imagine circus, because I didn’t know that was a route right away, but it was very clear growing up that I was going to be on stage,” she said. “Everybody knew it, we just didn’t know what yet.”

O’Sullivan joined the cast of Cirque du Soleil’s newest Big Top show, Echo in January 2023. And this summer she brings her performance to the GTA.

The performance combines poetry, stagecraft, and daring acrobatics into a story about evolution and the vital balance between humans, animals, and our shared world.

O’Sullivan started gymnastics at the age of seven at East York Gymnastic Club in Toronto, where she grew up. In the years that followed, she honed her skills, not only as a gymnast but also as a performer.

“My coach said I put a lot of thought into things but, regardless of that, my gymnastic level didn’t rise to super elite. I wasn’t winning the technical medals but I was getting all the special awards, like most dynamic routine, which is expression,” she explained.

“Then it just started to really click. I knew I wasn’t going to the Olympics with it, but I definitely love doing it. So, I was in search of this creative fusion of things where there’s not really any rules and that’s what circus is.”

By the time she was 15-years-old, O’Sullivan left home to attend the renowned National Circus School in Montreal. After graduating high school there, she then completed the college program as a hand-to-hand flyer and started her professional career as an acrobat.

Looking for new ways to push her limits and explore new movements, O’Sullivan started practicing hair suspension, an aerial act where performers are suspended by their hair. She developed a routine with her best friend and fellow acrobat, Penelope Scheidler, and the duo started performing the act for audiences.

Soon after, the circus came calling — as in Cirque du Soleil.

Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar, the author and director of ECHO, the 20th Big Top creation from Cirque du Soleil, wanted the hair suspension act in his show, which he says is “about connecting everybody together, and working together to create the world we want to live in.”

O’Sullivan says it was a natural fit.

“It was so cool to see what he was seeking and what he saw in our piece, which is this sensitive, human connection and also female empowerment and the sign of hope and ethereal beauty. I think that defines what we made,” she said.

“We are truly honoured to have our original piece in the show. Performing it every day now is just so fulfilling because it truthfully came from that place — it’s not only the message that we’re portraying through the performance, but it’s also something that genuinely came from connection.”

On top of featuring the first ever duo hair suspension act in Cirque du Soleil history, aesthetically, ECHO also brings bold new visuals and an innovative approach to the Big Top, weaving together high-level acrobatics in a modern and contemporary universe. It’s also the first ever Cirque show to feature six live vocalists, with most of the musicians also singing in the show.

{ SOURCE: The Toronto Star }