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From under the big top

By Keegan Prosser on January 14, 2013 – No Comment

photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

BY ANDY NYSTROM

The last thing on Vinie Canovas’ mind is fright when she’s flying, spinning and flipping high above the crowd, straps firmly secured to her wrists and hands.

As the spectators gaze up in awe at Canovas and her fellow Valkyrie warrior women zooming around the upper reaches of the Cirque du Soleil big top, she’s locked into her comfort zone.

“Scared? No. But you always have a little adrenaline when you do something new — you get ticklish in your stomach,” Canovas says as her comment trails into a silly laugh. “We take some risks, but it’s safe. If I don’t feel anything anymore, I think I would stop.”

Canovas, a 30-year-old from Montpellier in southern France, is part of the Cirque du Soleil troupe that will perform its latest creation, “Amaluna,” under the mammoth blue-and-gold Grand Chapiteau (big top) at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Jan. 31-March 17.

Along with the Valkyrie’s aerial act, other performers — most donning lavish costumes — will display their acrobatic/street entertainment talents while dancing, sliding in and out of a water bowl and jumping onto a tightrope, unicycle, teeterboard and other apparatuses, often contorting their bodies and always pushing their athleticism to the limit.

The Cirque, which was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, Canada, in 1984, unveiled “Amaluna” in Vancouver, BC, at the end of November and the tour is slated to run for five years under the big top before moving onto the arena circuit, Canovas says.

“Amaluna” is set on a mysterious island protected by the Valkyrie, governed by Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. Canovas and the Valkyrie trio make their presence known in a big way when they enter the big top and help bring “Amaluna” to life.

“Our act starts as a battle, it’s really dark. And then as we finish the battle, we kind of show off a little bit. We show that the Valkyrie are in the place, so we just fly around,” says Canovas in a phone interview from Vancouver, where they’ve performed nine to 10 shows a week. “People, when they follow us, it’s just really amazing. It’s like an Air Force, you have like an airplane flying over your head.”

Canovas, a former fitness instructor, French junior national team gymnast and acrobatic dancer, has been with the Cirque for five years, previously performing in “Saltimbanco” on an arena tour.

The Cirque’s mix of acting, acrobatics and choreography set to live music drew her into the troupe’s world and she sent a video displaying her skills, strength and flexibility to its headquarters in Montreal. She later auditioned and got the gig.

“It’s like a magical moment when you watch the show,” Canovas says. “So as an acrobat, of course you picture yourself on stage and you can imagine how good it can be to perform with this company.”

Added artistic director Mark Pawsey: “The joy of a Cirque du Soleil show is that it evolves, so it’s never the same show. It’s dependent on the artists you have, and everybody wants to get better. We’re constantly rehearsing, we’re constantly pushing the boundaries of every individual here, so they give more because they have to be creative and they have to grow.”

The Valkyrie women weren’t acquainted before rehearsals began for “Amaluna,” so they had to bond on and off the stage in order to bring an upper-echelon performance to the big top. Canovas says as they discovered what each woman brought to the table, they worked to connect all of their individual talents into one.

Canovas noted the women practice the act together and individually do pilates, shoulder exercises and visit a massage therapist. Working out daily on the straps makes the women strong and fit, so there’s no weight training involved.

“That’s all for the boys,” she says with a laugh.

It’s been an inspirational journey from initial rehearsals to showtime, and being a Valkyrie has become part of their lives.

“There’s a lot of my personality and myself in this character and I love being a Valkyrie,” Canovas says. “(Off stage) I’m really strong, I’m independent, but I’m also very curious and generous and I like to share a lot with people.”

In order to succeed on the Cirque scene, performers must be passionate about their craft, challenge themselves mentally and physically during their act and make eye contact with audience members to give them the night of their lives, Canovas says.

“Every night is special for us because we have to perform for new people,” she says. “(We want to) make them dream and make them feel like they’re part of the show. We want to make them live the magic of ‘Amaluna.’ It’s a new adventure every time.”

When she’s not performing, Canovas spends time with her boyfriend — a non-Cirque member who travels with her on tour — and goes on bike rides to discover each city. It’s a good life, she says, but it’s hard to be thousands of miles away from family and friends in France.

But there’s a trade-off of sorts as Canovas is in good company each night she performs. The crowd keep its eye on her every move as she transports them into the world of “Amaluna.”

“It’s awesome. It’s a really good feeling,” she says.