Cirque splashes into Redmond Jan. 31-March 17

A Cirque du Soleil member performs in the water bowl, which weighs around 6,000 pounds and holds 1,500 liters of water.  - Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil
A Cirque du Soleil member performs in the water bowl, which weighs around 6,000 pounds and holds 1,500 liters of water.
— image credit: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

It’s coming. Just look for the blue-and-gold Grand Chapiteau.

That’s the Cirque du Soleil’s big top, which will rise to the sky this Thursday and stand tall in Marymoor Park for 46 days. Inside, the 50-member troupe will perform its latest creation, “Amaluna,” which is set on a mysterious island governed by Goddesses, guided by the cycles of the moon and protected by Valkyrie warrior women, who also fly high with their aerial talents.

From Jan. 31-March 17, the 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.

“Everybody seems to really connect with it and find an emotional intensity that empowers them. Theater should be there to support people to dream and believe in the impossible,” artistic director Mark Pawsey said of “Amaluna,” which opened in Vancouver, B.C., at the end of November. The tour is slated to run for five years under the big top before moving onto the arena circuit.

“I know it’s not the same as doing brain surgery or helping people to survive, but it’s a tool that enables people to get something good in life,” Pawsey, 47, added.

The Cirque, which was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, Canada, in 1984, welcomed Pawsey on board 14 years ago. Prior to that, he “had probably the best job in London” as stage manager for “Phantom of the Opera” for four and a half years.

Back in his “Phantom” days one of the actresses asked Pawsey to attend the Cirque’s “Saltimbanco” with her at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He didn’t know anything about the Cirque — and he didn’t want to go.

However, the afternoon’s entertainment ended up being a life-changing experience for Pawsey, who said that he couldn’t speak afterward.

“I was transported to a place that I had never been before and I decided I was going to work for this company,” he added.

Following the show, Pawsey delivered a hand-written letter to an employee at the stage door and received a message on his phone machine by the time he returned home. Cirque officials met with Pawsey the following day, but it took two years before the right job came along and they eventually joined forces. During his Cirque tenure, Pawsey has worked in the capacity of artistic director, tour manager, assistant tour manager and general stage manager for “Amaluna,” “Alegria,” “Quidam,” “Zumanity” and “ZED.”

While Pawsey said that his first Cirque show was a surprise to him, people who attend the performances nowadays usually know what they’re in for since they’ve seen clips on television or the Internet.

“It’s difficult trying to give them something different while staying true to the Cirque style and theme, so there’s different challenges now,” said Pawsey, noting that Redmond will be the fifth city on the “Amaluna” tour. “It’s grown and evolved and changed. People find their identity. They develop relationships within the show, so the show gets layered and layered and more and more rich and that’s only beneficial to everybody. We work on constantly changing the acrobatics and making them more exciting and better.”

Pawsey has always been interested in live theater. He studied stage management in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and earned the prestigious Liverpool Playhouse Award. He worked in London’s West End on productions that featured Hugh Jackman, Julie Andrews, Bob Hope and others.

“I found that (the theater) was a place where I could be transported and disappear and feel emotion. It was the first place I really found somewhere that made me laugh and cry,” he said. “I found it glamorous. I found that there was this appeal that wanted to suck me in.”

That could describe “Amaluna,” as well.

Pawsey’s infatuation with theater is stronger than ever on “Amaluna,” which features performers ages 14 to 52 and a strong story line that each audience member can interpret on their own since there’s no dialogue, he said.

Vinie Canovas, a 30-year-old from Montpellier in southern France, is one of the Valkyries in “Amaluna” and said that audiences have been entranced by the performers, whether they’re slithering about on stage or flying high above the crowd like she does.

“It’s nice performing in the tent, you can see the audience, compared to before in the arena,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see their reaction.”



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