Cirque du Soleil founders Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix first brought their post-circus, French-Canadian performance troupe to Philadelphia in 2001 with a makeshift tent on Broad and Washington. Since that time, Cirque has continued to make un-categorizable magic in the air and on the flying trapeze, thorough highly choreographed movement on its dance stages and through clowning with unusually rich emotion – all in Philadelphia.
Cirque du Soleil – like the rest of the planet – took its pandemic break, and is currently back in action with its bold, bright new showcase, ‘Crystal,’ at the Wells Fargo Center from June 24-26.
Christine Achampong, Cirque du Soleil’s longtime senior publicist, talked to Metro after the troupe set stakes in South Philly, meeting up with Wells Fargo’s guardian angel, Gritty – the Flyers furry mascot – in the process.
What can you say about the upwards trajectory and venue scale of Cirque du Soleil’s start point in Philadelphia – a parking lot in South Philly – to where it is now, at Wells Fargo?
It speaks to the ongoing ambition and innovation of Cirque du Soleil through the years. We just celebrated our 38th anniversary, and in those years, we’ve grown from a 20-person street circus to one of the largest global live entertainment companies in the world. That ambition and desire to entertain the world is what continues to drive us and drive our growth not only in Philadelphia, but around the world.
How would you say that Cirque weathered the pandemic?
We’ve come out of the pandemic a bit learner but more agile than we were pre-pandemic. All eight of our resident shows in Las Vegas have reopened and we’ve just opened a new resident show, Mad Apple, at New York New York. We’ve also successfully relaunched all eight of our touring shows around the world, including ‘Crystal’, which will tour across North America this summer before going to Europe in the fall.
In conceiving ‘Crystal’, what makes it radically different than previous affairs? How will it speak to audiences differently?
‘Crystal’ is Cirque du Soleil’s 42nd creation and the company’s first performance on ice. We’ve combined the gravity-defying acrobatics like swinging trapeze, aerial straps, and banquine, that our audiences know and love us for, with the speed and grace of ice skating for the first time. The creation process was like a discipline exchange – acrobats learned how to skate and skaters learned how to do acrobatics. Both groups have a deep respect and admiration for the others’ craft. ‘Crystal’ quite literally speaks directly to audiences – it’s one of Cirque du Soleil’s only shows that includes narration.
What should Philadelphia expect in terms of orchestration, improvisation and feats of daring?
‘Crystal’ is brought to life on ice with a giant 36 foot wall and 27 projectors that project different scenes on to both surfaces. The ice is transformed into everything, from a town square to a schoolyard, playgroup, office tower and the bottom of a frozen pond. The projections, props, costumes and set pieces come together to create a brilliant and vivid world of ice where skating of all kinds mingles with acrobatics and aerial feats. In regards to music, ‘Crystal’ is Cirque’s only touring show to include cover versions of well-known pop songs, each specifically recorded for the show in Cirque’s unique musical style, so audiences can expect to hear a few tracks that they already know and love in a new and unique way. There’s also a lot of costumes. Each acrobat and skater wears three to four different costume every performance, which means quick changes between each scene. The costumes are equipped with full length zips that run from ankle to ankle along the inside seam to allow the skaters to change without removing their skates.
Having witnessed Cirque’s transition from small to larger spaces, you’ve been able to continue its sense of intimacy, proximity and up-close magic. How does CdS makes that possible?
In ‘Crystal’, the intimacy of the story lends itself to creating a bond with our audiences – being misunderstood and feeling a bit lost is something we all relate to. The ultimate lesson that ‘Crystal’ learns in her journey is something we can all relate to too – finding your footing in life takes courage and sometimes a little bit of magic. ‘Crystal’ also features one of Cirque’s largest stages, but because there’s constant activity, the stage never feels empty. The projections help with that immersive feeling – light helps to set the tone for each scene. Whether it’s the sharp red tones during our extreme skating/hockey scene, or a deep calming blue during the beautiful synchronized skating scene, the show’s creative team knew exactly what they were doing when they created ‘Crystal’.
What can you say of Cirque’s performers coming across Gritty?
We love Gritty. Hanging with him at the Flyers practice facility was the perfect way to reintroduce Cirque du Soleil into the market after a 3-year hiatus. We have a very long and successful history with Philadelphia, starting with Dralion in 2001 under the Big Top. It was very important for us to bring Cirque du Soleil back to the market as soon as we possibly could. And, there’s a special surprise that Flyers fans will have to watch for during one of the acts in the show. We don’t want to ruin the surprise but it’s definitely worth coming to ‘Crystal’.