Run Away and Join the Circus

What it's like to dance for Cirque du Soleil

Cirque doesn't offer class, so Sneddon must warm herself up before shows. Photo by Ana Dobrijevic/Cashman Photography, courtesy Cirque du Soleil.

Last year, Kelly Sneddon traded in the Manhattan skyline for the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip. After three seasons with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, her first full-time dance job, she was ready for a new challenge: joining the circus.

Earlier in the year, a friend who worked for Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE told her that the show had an opening. She auditioned, and when her Complexions contract was up in late 2014, she left for the role of Little Darling, who is the young Eleanor Rigby. “I grew up hearing the music of The Beatles, so the thought of that becoming my daily soundtrack was very enticing,” says Sneddon. “At the end the crowd walks away with the message ‘All you need is love.’ That really resonated with me.”

Although her character’s dancing is rooted in contemporary and jazz dance, Sneddon, 23, had to get used to a completely different performance environment. Though LOVE has song and dance, the show has been described by reviewers as less of a musical and more of a “live rock-video fantasy.” With over 60 performers, elaborate costumes, projections and Volkswagen Beetles on set, cast members must know their exact marks and be aware of everything that’s happening onstage. “There are many elements that are new for me, like the moving stage, acrobats and aerial artists,” she says. “The show is also very character driven, and getting to know mine has been my biggest challenge.” For instance, she initially found herself out of her comfort zone in a scene where she runs through the crowd screaming like a groupie. “I’ve assimilated as quickly as possible by just going for it and jumping in headfirst. ‘All or nothing’ is a mantra said often at Complexions that has stuck with me.”

Although Sneddon was used to Complexions’ demanding tours, she has found that the 10 performances of LOVE every week calls for a different kind of stamina. Thankfully, her job comes with health insurance and on-site physical therapy, not to mention a steady paycheck. But she’s found that she has had to change her mental approach to performance. “Each time you step onstage, you are introducing yourself for the first time,” she says. “It might be my tenth show, but it’s the audience’s very first.”

Sneddon is taking her new job day by day, show by show, and isn’t sure what life after Cirque might hold. Another stint in contemporary ballet, perhaps? “If I decide to go back to the world of ballet,” she says, “I will definitely have to dust off the pointe shoes.”

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July 2021