Wednesday, October 22, 2008

[Regina Walton's Expat Interviews]'Alegria' performers

Today the Korea Herald published my interview with two of the performers in Cirque du Soleil's Alegría. Alegría opened in Seoul last Wednesday and I had a chance to go see it on Friday. It was my first Cirque du Soleil show. I have to say, I'd heard they put on amazing shows. I just never realized how amazing they were.

Cirque du Soleil has been around for years, but when they hit big in the States I was dealing with other things (mostly grief from my parent's deaths, a big move from L.A. to San Francisco to start law school and the general stress that big life changes bring).

However, I'm catching up pretty well, I think.

Enjoy.

If you're in Seoul, click here for ticket information.

[Regina Walton's Expat Interviews] 'Alegria' performers talk to Expat Living

Last week Cirque du Soleil's "Alegria" opened in Seoul at the Jamsil Sports Complex in Gangnam, adding one more thing to your to-do list.

"Alegria" is Spanish for elation, exhilaration and jubilation - all definitely feelings spectators have when watching the show. "Alegria" is one of eight performances Cirque du Soleil is putting on around the world. In addition to its touring shows, the company has resident shows in various locations around the world, and it also has a seasonal winter show in Madison Square Garden, New York City.

Cirque du Soleil launched "Alegria" in 1994 to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The show kicked off in Montreal, Canada and has been performed in cities all around the world since. With a cast of 55 acrobats, musicians, singers, clowns and characters more than 10 million people have seen "Alegria" since it started in 1994.

When you think of Cirque du Soleil, you think of a group performance - but not usually of the individual performers.

Two "Alegria" trampolinists, Lisa Skinner from Australia and Ken Futamura from Canada, sat down with Expat Living to discuss what it was like to perform in the show.

Lisa Skinner, who does the power track (a high flying trampoline act) and is a nymph in the production, has been with Cirque du Soleil since 2006. This is her first visit to Seoul and she said she has been getting out as much as she can to see the city.

Skinner is from Clear Mountain, Queensland, Australia. She is a gymnast who competed at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, where Cirque du Soleil first noticed her talent.

They first approached her after seeing her performance at the 2000 Olympics.

Skinner's response? She told them she'd think about it, but said she "didn't know too much about it at that time." She added: "I'd started to pick up a bit more information and I'd seen one of the shows before because of my coach. Her sister was in Cirque du Soleil and had been performing for awhile. But then I ended up continuing with gymnastics."

Lisa took a break from gymnastics after the 2000 Olympics but started training again in 2002.

"I actually bumped into a scout at the Athens (Olympics) and she asked me again 'so what do you reckon?' I was more interested at that time too and knew more about it and it seemed pretty good."

It was after the 2004 Olympics that she auditioned and joined Cirque du Soleil.

How would Skinner describe Cirque du Soleil to someone who has never seen it?

"When I saw my first (Cirque du Soleil) show, which was 1998, I saw 'Quidam' in Texas. I'd never seen anything like it before. I'd never been to a circus before, so this was my first one. I was just amazed by everything that they did. I could hardly blink. I didn't want to take my eyes off of it.

Cirque du Soleil

"Later on, when actually I got the opportunity to work here, it's as good as you probably think it's going to be. It's not too difficult. Most of the work the (performers) have done before in their sport. They've done their repetitions. They've done the training. They've got the aerial awareness already and here it's just upkeep," she said. "You're doing the show every day, so there isn't too much training. There (are) great people and there is not as much pressure. Obviously, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to do your best, but you have fun.


"I don't feel like I work. I come to work and I play."

Kenneth Futamura, unlike Skinner, has been to Seoul before. The Cirque du Soleil performer was working in Japan and came to visit for four days about 10 years ago. "I'm really looking forward to seeing a little bit more."

Like Skinner, Futamura is also a trained gymnast. He competed in the Commonwealth Games in 1994.

Also like Skinner, Futamura performs in the power track in "Alegria."

Futamura heard about Cirque du Soleil when he was "coaching at the gym and they had a posting concerning auditions in Montreal. I said 'Why not take a chance?' because a lot of the Canadian athletes and coaches were in Cirque du Soleil at that time. So I heard a little bit about the name but I didn't know anything about their shows."

In 1997 he auditioned for Cirque du Soleil and was accepted. He has been with the company for almost 11 years. He was a rookie in Cirque du Soleil's "La Nouba" production, based at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and he's been with "Alegria" since August 2004.

Futamura described the difference between his performance on the power track in "Alegria" and his performance in "La Nouba."

"The two main differences are that La Nouba is a permanent show, so it stays fixed and it's a bigger stage with more mechanical things. The act I was doing ... was a building with two trampolines on the side and cross of power track. It's a building with two stories and windows that people can come out from. So people can jump from the top of the building to the trampoline. On the floor you have a power track."

Futamura describes Cirque du Soleil as "theatrical, everything is live. We have beautiful costumes and the acrobatic skills are very high."

When it comes to advice to young people interested in joining Cirque du Soleil, he says, "It depends on what you want to do." As a gymnast, Ken's first suggestion was gymnastics.

"Gymnastics helps a lot because it works all the parts of your body. Any sport is good, like dancing." He then went on to say that there were other performers in Cirque du Soleil, like musicians. "The main thing is if they love what they do, that's a good start."

Cirque du Soleil's "Alegria" is a touring show and ends its stay in Korea on Nov. 19. Tickets are priced from 50,000 to 110,000 won. More information can be found at this website cirquedusoleil.co.kr

Unfortunately, the editors changed my ending in this piece and got it wrong. I wrote this, "Don't wait too long because it is a touring show, so they'll be moving on after a few weeks." It got replaced with this, "Cirque du Soleil's "Alegria" is a touring show and ends its stay in Korea on Nov. 19. " Where they got that from, I'm not sure.

C'est la vie. You can't control everything...

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