In the average graduating class of any dance program (in styles that use pirouettes), how many of the graduates can do a quadruple, clean, controlled, pirouette with consistency? Forty percent? Fifty? Seventy percent? Think carefully before you answer.
Every dancer her their own limits. Photo by Ahmad Odeh/Unsplash
Last month, Yann Arnaud, an aerialist with Cirque de Soleil, died after plummeting to the stage in VOLTA. He was performing an aerial straps routine in Tampa, Florida, when one of his hands slipped and he fell 20 feet.
Professional dancers are often asked to perform stunts, some of them extremely dangerous. Even when the risks aren't life-threatening, it's important to listen to your gut.
A Choreographers' Showcase 2016. Photo by Ginger Griep-Ruiz, Courtesy Nevada Ballet Theatre.
Since 2007, Nevada Ballet Theatre and mega-producer Cirque du Soleil have joined forces to produce A Choreographers' Showcase. Each year, ballet dancers, aerialists, acrobats, clowns and musicians meld their artistic talents, creating buzz up and down the strip. These two unlikely partners will celebrate their 10th anniversary October 8, 14 and 15 when this "only in Vegas" style grand pas takes to the Mystère stage at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino. For this 2017 celebration, 15 original works will be created and performed by over 60 artists from both NBT and the seven resident Vegas Cirque shows. nevadaballet.org.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
Since that announcement, the question has been, What will have the chutzpah to fill the nearly 2,000-seat Lyric Theatre, the second largest venue on Broadway?
Well, of course, Cirque du Soleil. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.)
Cirque’s jaw-dropping feats have become staple attractions for tourists visiting Las Vegas, Orlando and Mexico. But the production company has never been able to find a stable home in New York. Its 2010 show Banana Shpeel at the Beacon Theater ran less than six weeks. And space is a source of frustration for Cirque—you can’t exactly erect a giant tent in the middle of Manhattan.
So instead of finding a venue to fit its high-flying stunts, Cirque has changed its formula to fit an NYC venue. Its new show Paramour will more or less be a musical theater production that combines dancers, actors and acrobats. Unlike most Cirque shows, this one has a plot: Set in Golden Age Hollywood, a poet must choose between love and art. Paramour will be directed and choreographed by Philippe Decouflé, who studied under Alwin Nikolais, and has choreographed for Lyon Opera Ballet and produced another Cirque show, Iris.
Paramour will begin previews on April 16, with its opening on June 2. There’s no word yet on what production will take over the Lyric Theatre in the interim.
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.”