November 22, 2017
Friday, July 4, 2014

Expect the unexpected from Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil acrobats rehearse a routine of Corteo in the Big Top.
Cirque du Soleil acrobats rehearse a routine of Corteo in the Big Top.
Cirque du Soleil acrobats rehearse a routine of Corteo in the Big Top.
By Luciana Ekdesman
Herald Staff

The Herald takes a sneak peek backstage and talks with acrobat Frederic Umali

The entertainment listing in Buenos Aires is rich and varied, with lots of shows on stage from Mondays to Sundays. Almost a month ago, one-of-a-kind company Cirque du Soleil arrived in BA and put up its famous white tent in Lomas de Zamora to add colour and adrenalin to the local billboard until August 3 — with special performances for the winter holidays.

The celebrated Quebec-based company performs once more in Argentina: this year they’re bringing Corteo, the story of a clown who pictures his own funeral. People he has met during his life, such as his friends, lovers, other clowns, the loyal whistler, among other characters, appear in a festive parade. “It’s about how the main character sees it through his eyes, maybe how he dreams of it,” US acrobat Frederic Umali, one of the many performers who bring Corteo to life, told the Herald.

Entering the Cirque du Soleil backstage area is like stepping inside a big house, though the performers don’t live there. There are security guards, movable offices, a tent for the artists to eat, lots of washing machines to clean the costumes, the dressing rooms, a sofa, a TV, the Artistic Tent — where artists train and do exercise — and the Big Top — a tent with a stage and 2,700 seats where the show takes place.

Twenty years ago, the Cirque was made up of only 73 people; now there are almost 5,000 members, including 1,300 artists, who offer amazing theatre, acrobatics and dance shows worldwide, simultaneously.

Before curtain call, the artists arrive to the tent early because there’s a lot of work to do. “Normally, on a full show week, when we have between eight to 10 shows, we have one specific training for an hour-and-a-half before the show and everything else is maintenance work. We have to balance,” explained Umali, who performs in the Bouncing Beds and Tournik acts.

It’s rehearsal time!

Back in the Big Top, it’s rehearsal time. And it’s the turn of the Tournik act where eight artists cross paths applying horizontal bar techniques mixed with circus arts on a circular rotating stage. “When I do my act, there’re a lot of other guys on the bars. It’s really quite dangerous if you are not, like, active watching everybody else and attentive to what we are doing, because the movements we do are very intricate. You have to have a lot of awareness of the people who are around you and how to work with others. It’s a group act, not a solitary one where you can choose your pace. It’s a challenge everyday and I think that makes my job really interesting all the time,” Umali highlighted.

Joining the circus by chance

Umali is an original member of Corteo. Although he took some years off to participate in another show of the Cirque, he decided to come back. “I think my heart is here. This show is more my personality, there’s more freedom. I like this very much.”

Contrary to what most people may think, Umali joined the company “more by chance” than because of any long-held aspirations. What’s more, he didn’t even know what the Cirque was. However, he did an audition when he was living in Australia — finishing his gymnastics career — after a very good friend told him about it.

“My life is not exactly what I thought it would be, but I found something that I love here. We travel, we meet amazing people. It’s hard not to love what I’m doing because it is an extension of the acrobatics master I was doing before but on a totally different level with theatrics, emotions. It’s another evolution of my life. I’m really pleased with the path that I chose,” said Umali, who has been doing gymnastics since he was six years old.

“I just love flipping and flying. It is a different challenge than in other sports because you will never learn everything. There is always a new challenge,” he added.

A more personal show

This is not the first time the Cirque has performed in Buenos Aires, and the company always surprises the public with innovative proposals. Umali didn’t say much about the show itself, to leave a little bit of surprise for the public, but he is very sure the show is quite unique.

“You really see us on stage. We have very simple make-up, there’s a lot of interaction with the audience — we are very close to them. The other show I did was less personal but more spectacular. This show has a lot more emotion and more contact with the people. We see them, they see us. Without giving too much away, you can just expect the unexpected,” he said.

Where & When

Al Río (Francisco Narciso de Laprida 300, Vicente López). Tickets from 400 pesos at the venue. From Tuesdays to Sundays, check full schedule at


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