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The Cirque is coming to town

9 June 2023
Crystal by Cirque du Soleil. ©Olivier Brajon

South Islanders, lace up your ice skates – celebrated Cirque du Soleil production CRYSTAL, a spectacular of acrobatics on ice, touches down in Christchurch this month.
Photos Olivier Brajon

While many Kiwis may have already experienced Cirque du Soleil’s signature breathtaking shows, CRYSTAL, created in 2017 and having already travelled to more than 130 cities, 18 countries and seen by more than 1.8 million people, is easily the coolest (literally and figuratively) yet.

Not only is it Cirque du Soleil’s first and only touring show to incorporate remastered pop songs into the soundtrack of a show (more on that later), it’s also – mindblowingly – performed entirely on ice.
“Creating an acrobatic performance on ice wasn’t easy,” says Christine Achampong, CRYSTAL’s senior publicist.

“CRYSTAL uses one of the biggest stages in Cirque du Soleil history, which means we needed to get creative with how we used it. One of the ways we did this is by using 28 video projectors to project large-scale video and images onto the ice, transforming our stage into the many different imaginary worlds on Crystal’s journey under the ice.

“And because the artists of CRYSTAL move around much faster than they do on regular Cirque shows (because they’re on skates!), CRYSTAL is the only Cirque du Soleil show to use an automatic spotlight tracking system (versus a manual spot operator) that uses infrared technology to follow each of our artists on ice.

“One of the biggest challenges for our production team was ensuring that the equipment used (lights, speakers) could withstand the cold and operate properly at low temperatures. That’s why we travel with backups of backups of our technical equipment, just in case.

“Another challenge was getting our artists mentally and physically prepared to perform on the ice. It’s ‘easy’ for a seasoned acrobat to do what they do on a regular stage floor, but the ice adds another physical and psychological element that all CRYSTAL artists need and have been trained for.”

A further challenge is shifting such an extraordinary production from city to city and country to country.
“The entire show moves from city to city in 21 x 48ft transport trailers,” Christine explains.
“The process of loading in and setting up the show takes approximately 15 hours and usually happens the day before we premiere in a city. This doesn’t include lighting focus time – it takes up to 24 hours to autofocus the 30+ projectors that we travel with on tour.

“But before we load in, we have to make the ice! This can take anywhere from 48 to 72 hours before the tour gets to town. The length of ice time depends on a few different factors including the humidity and temperature inside and outside of the arena.”

While this might not take too long in a mid-winter Canterbury, there’s also the 97 employees that travel with the show to look after, plus the hiring of 100+ local employees to fill positions from runners and wardrobe assistants to technicians, catering and loading in and out.

Then there’s the music: with its sweeping, atmospheric and romantic soundscapes, CRYSTAL is the only touring show to feature popular music in its musical score. Audiences will hear Cirque-style re-recordings of ‘Chandelier’ by Sia, ‘Halo’ by Beyoncé, ‘Sinnerman’ by Nina Simone, and U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’.
The score also features music specially created for the show that incorporates a variety of musical styles, from grand orchestral sounds and klezmer-style chamber music to melodic folk and energetic rock-tinged beats.

To up the aural ante even more, CRYSTAL features three live musicians who play a total of eight different instruments including violins, acoustic and electric guitars, accordions, bass clarinets, clarinets and saxophones.

Last but not least – the costumes. All artists have between three and four costume changes in one performance, which means each costume has been adapted to help with ‘quick changes’ between scenes – sometimes the artists have less than 30 seconds to change.
“Because of the added element of the ice, safety is also a big part of what we do,” Christine explains.
“Shoes and gloves have ‘crampons’ on them to help our non-skating artists run, tumble and do all the breathtaking acrobatics they do on the ice.

“We also travel with over 600 pieces of wardrobe on tour and all our costume pieces are created at our international headquarters in Montreal, Canada. Each costume at Cirque du Soleil starts off as a blank white fabric that’s either laser-printed or handpainted with a pattern.

Cirque du Soleil’s CRYSTAL runs June 16 to 25, 2023, at Christchurch Arena.

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