A day in the guts of the Cirque du Soleil: naps, games of ‘Fortnite’ and a dangerous hoop jumping ‘masterclass’

Hoop jumping on moving treadmills. Dare, one of the 13 numbers that articulate luzia, the last show of the Cirque du Soleil, if perhaps the greatest show in the world. Jump. Ring. ribbons. Rush. movement. But sometimes words are not enough. To understand what is called the magic of the circus, you have to touch the canvas, soak up sweat, plunge into the very marrow of the acrobats, fall down a thousand times and get up again. And that has made GREAT MADRID. Infiltrating the Madrid headquarters of this great pirouette factory with the excuse of trying out one of its numbers (we repeat: hoop jumping on treadmills); We will live the rehearsals, the meals, the camaraderie, the passion and also the rest. Ladies and gentlemen, the most difficult yet: welcome to the back room of Cirque du Soleil.

ANDThe Australian Nelson Smyles will be our teacher and guide throughout the day, which does not usually start with the first roosters as the performances end after 10:30 p.m. (they rest on Mondays and Tuesdays, the only days on which there is no show). He is one of the 7 gymnasts in the number at hand, and try to teach us the basics. Namely; that we don’t end up in the ER with a head injury.

Nelson and his hoop jumping 'masterclass'.
Nelson and his hoop jumping ‘masterclass’.

Nelson is 26 years old, but at the age of 4 he already began to show acrobatic skills. In adolescence he became fond of parkour, that discipline born in the suburbs of Paris that consists of challenging the verticality of concrete by climbing walls and roofs. When the Melbourne sky grew small for him, decided to enroll in the National Institute of Circus Arts. Before finishing his studies, he sent some videos to various companies, including Cirque du Soleil… and voilà: in 2017 he got his first contract.

Every day, Nelson rehearses the number with the rest of his classmates in the big central tent -a stage with a capacity for 2,600 people and a height of 19 meters-. More data: the ground is perforated with 94,657 holes -not one more, not one less- than allow the 6,000 liters of water that are used during the show to be drained. And it is that water is, precisely, one of the main elements of luziathe spectacle that has been camping for a few weeks in Puerta del Ángel, in Madrid.

Bow your head like this, with your chin towards your neck, that’s essential. And now approach the hoop, look at it carefully… and jump into the hole! Nelson, quite tall for what is customary among the gymnasts of the circus staff, holds the hoop five feet off the ground.

-But if I lower my chin towards the neck I can’t look at the hoop -I warn him. It is assumed that, after crossing the hoop, which measures 75 cm. in diameter, you have to do a somersault. -Or one thing or the other.

The locker room area.
The locker room area.

The jump execution ends without incident.. But the challenge is complicated when Nelson and company, who during luzia they will dress boisterous costumes of hummingbirdsThey perform the number on treadmills like those in gyms, which move at great speed, and become more and more intricate with the excess of feverish somersaults, fleeting juggling, violent bodies: jumps backwards, doubled over on themselves, one on top of the other, pushing off their companions. Oh that’s left.

In a secondary tent, just behind the main stage, the trickle of artists arrives at the facilities. There are a total of 46 (almost half are retired athletes from high competition in artistic, acrobatic and rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline, synchronized swimming and jumping) and of 18 different nationalities (from Guinea to Poland, passing through Finland, Israel or Venezuela).

In that little tent next door train, rest, make up, dress. A Brazilian girl gets on a bar pool dance while another, three meters below, take a short nap. Someone play a game Fortnite with the mobile sitting on a sofa while Alexey Goloborodko, the Russian contortionist, send a WhatsApp with one leg on the forehead and the other on the back of the neck.

Nelson Smyles puts on makeup.
Nelson Smyles puts on makeup.

They are my family, says Mikal Bruyre-Lbb, Nelson’s comrade in hoop jumping, who in English has been calling himself hoop diving. We don’t sleep in caravans as people think, this is a 21st century circus, point. We share Airbnb flats or hotel rooms in all the cities we are in, and that is many months. We have to love each other.

-And what happened during the months of the pandemic?

-I took the opportunity to change my apartment in Montreal, to take care of my cat Charlotte and to study psychology.

-Not bad…

After half past three we go to the dining room tent. Two chefs and a manager lead a team of 10 people who serve, on average, 250 meals each day. If people have a happy stomach, the show turns out much better, explains Charlie Wagner, public relations for the company during his stay in Madrid. She is one of the team of 115 people who make up the staff in the capital: almost 50 artists, 19 technicians, 9 tent specialists -they take eight days to install them- and maintenance managers -plumbers, electricians, etc.-, customer experience managers, security…

Dining tent.

Nelson begins putting on self-makeup—everyone receives an intensive 10-hour course in Montreal, the company’s headquarters—three hours before the show begins. It takes me 25 minutes, which lasts for a chapter of The Simpson on mobile, she calculates as she smokes her bright blue eyes; hummingbird blue What if I drink alcohol? Sure, on weekends! I don’t go crazy either, I’m an acrobat. But I’m in Madrid, so I have no choice….

And although we are fully immersed in the 21st century, with its trapeze artists living in Airbnb apartments and its clowns having a fortnite behind the scenes, there is a liturgy that does not change: the itinerant character of the circus for ever and ever. On January 22, when Luzia turns off the lights in Madrid for the last time, 65 trailers will transport all the material to Sevilleyour next destination. 2,000 tons of fantasy that fit through a 75-centimeter hoop.

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