Behind the scenes at Cirque

By Tracy Key

Attention to detail is essential for the 'Quidam' touring crew

The magical world of a child’s imagination can capture the hearts of an audience faster than an acrobat can do a backflip. But when Cirque du Soleil combines that youthful fantasy with $1 million in hand-crafted costumes, over 150 pairs of customized shoes, performers from 23 different countries and a live musical performance, daydreams come alive.

“Quidam,” opening tonight at the Jack Breslin Arena, is the whimsical story of a lonely young girl named Zoé, who takes the audience with her on an adventure of self-discovery in the imaginary land of Quidam.

“If you really want a great memorable experience, normally you have to go to Las Vegas to see shows like this, but we’re coming to you,” said Georgia Stephenson, an assistant artistic director for “Quidam.” “If you haven’t seen a Cirque show before, ´Quidam´ is a great one to be your first.”

The backflips, balancing acts and larger-than-life costumes worn by the Cirque cast may appear fluid and seamless, but behind the scenes it’s another story.

“Its not easy to manage an international group,” Stephenson said, as she explained her various duties. “You have to find out the best way to interact and get the most out of each individual, and it takes a different approach with everybody.”

Stephenson explained that consistancy is one of the most important elements required to maintain the quality of each performance as the show travels. That includes everything from ensuring the practice area is put together in the same way each day to carefully planning the technical aspects of the show, such as lighting and the way the safety ropes are set up.

Even the diet of the performers requires special supervision. Jessica Leboeuf, a publicist for the show, said that meals are a carefully planned balance of healthy food as well as comfort foods and many special ethnic dishes native to the home countries of the performers. Professional chefs travel along with the show to prepare meals for the diverse cast and crew.

The careful attention to detail is just as important for the elaborate costumes as well, which include over 2,500 individual pieces for each performance.

“Each single piece of costume is created and fitted specifically for each performer,” Leboeuf said. She explained that each costume is completely handmade, from head to toe, based on precise measurements taken and recorded when each performer is recruited.

“They make a mold of (the performer´s) head and they take about 300 measurements of their whole bodies so we have a virtual replica of each performer at the headquarters,” Leboeuf said.

This makes it easier and more efficient to create new costumes that are “virtually perfect,” even when the individual for whom the costume is being made is hundreds of miles away.

In addition to setting the scene and reflecting the personalities of the characters, the costumes serve practical physical purposes. Due to the complexity of many of the acts, special clothing needs to be created to keep the performers safe and make their jobs easier. For the Spanish web act, which includes intense vertical rope climbing, the costumes are made of thick leather, which protects the performers from rope burn. “It’s beautiful but it’s also functional,” Leboeuf explained.

Even the shoes — all 300 of them — are completely customized, whether they are crafted from scratch or are stylishly modified versions of existing shoes, such as the bright orange hand-painted Doc Martens Zoé wears. Some special shoes even facilitate high-flying action, like the hooked shoes used for climbing, dangling and spinning from hoops suspended high above the stage.

At the heart of the show, beneath all the extravagant costumes and colorful make-up, exists some diverse and serious talent.

Twenty-four-year-old Roman Urazbakiyiev has been a part of the Cirque family for about a year and a half, but he has been an acrobat since he was 8 years old. In his hometown in Ukraine, his parents initially introduced him to the sport. “They brought me to the gym and I was really excited to do this,” he remembers.

He is still passionate about performing. “My favorite part is to see the inspired eyes of spectators,” Urazbakiyiev said. “It’s very amazing when you are giving happiness for the people, and when you are bringing something amazing to their hearts and you can see it in their eyes.”

Cirque du Soleil: ‘Quidam’

Jack Breslin Arena, Michigan State University

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, Thursday, May 24 and Friday, May 25; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 26; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, May 27


(517) 432-5000