There’s one new way to push the boundaries of Cirque du Soleil’s brand of music, art and daring circus acrobatics: Just add ice.
The traveling production, “Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal,” combines world-class ice skaters and acrobats into a single production, with colorful screen projections and a pop music-infused score to complete the spectacle.
Billed as a “breakthrough ice experience” (get it?), the show will play the Spokane Arena on May 2-6.
Artistic director Fabrice Lemire said the unique combination of artistic forces in “Crystal” continues to wow audiences as it travels the country.
“Sometimes I just watch the reactions around me,” Lemire said. “You will see tears in people’s eyes. There is something that is happening in their bodies, a reaction to an image or a sound… I encourage people to just sit back and absorb it.”
Lemire, an accomplished dancer in his own right, joined the Cirque du Soleil family in 2008 and has worked on several productions. On “Crystal,” he’s responsible for overseeing the performers and artistic team on tour. The production includes about 90 people, including around 40 stage performers. Being hired to work on the ice was something of a full-circle moment for Lemire.
“As a kid my dance teacher thought I would be a skater, but I never did it,” Lemire said. “When I was brought on to ‘Crystal,” I was finally ready in my mind to take the leap.”
The ultimate success of the show hinged on finding performers who could handle the combination of dance, sport skating and acrobatics. In many cases, Lemire said the show would hire experienced professionals in one field who were willing to take on some aspects of another field.
“We ask our acrobats to skate and skate well, but that doesn’t mean they have to know (expert) techniques,” he said. “From the skater world we have all variations of skating - lyrical dancers, speed skaters, athletic freestylers who can do twirls… it is a beautiful conversation that happens on stage.”
Canadian figure skater Shawn Sawyer began his competitive career at age 12, going on to represent his country in numerous international competitions. He competed in the 2006 Olympics in Torino and was the 2011 Canadian Vice Champion. After retiring from competition, he toured with companies like Stars on Ice before being asked in 2017 to participate in skating-acrobatic workshops by Cirque du Soleil that would lead to the creation of “Crystal.”
Sawyer said he always dreamed the company would incorporate ice skating and that he would eventually be asked to participate.
“I had to be patient and that patience paid off,” Sawyer said. “”Cirque had done some research and my name luckily popped up a couple of times in the videos they were inspired by. I was absolutely amazed and proud that my style and athleticism had pleased them.”
Sawyer said the expectation going in was to be able to add new abilities and techniques to his repertoire. Training for the production lasted four months.
“We were hired for our unique skills, and for our ability to learn and adapt to new challenges that would occur during the creation and performances of the show,” Sawyer said.
“Crystal” isn’t just a showcase for stunts and athletic displays. The show incorporates a strong narrative element focusing on the show’s titular lead character. A dreamer feeling out-of-sync with the world, Crystal falls through the ice on a frozen pond and is transported to an underwater world of her own imagination. An alter-ego “Reflection” guides her through the world as she discovers new talent and artistic individuality.
“The storytelling is a challenge that is concurred by using every single one of us and our particular role in the show,” Sawyer said. “We are backed up by amazing projections on the ice and display on the set.”
The extensive set design and costuming in which Cirque is known also play a part in the traveling show. Elements incorporated across the two act show include extreme skating flips and jumps, ice dancing and synchronized skating, trapeze on ice and in the air, pendular poles, pole-to-pole jumps and much more. All Cirque equipment has been “ice proofed,” while skates in many segments of the show are costumed to look like shoes - further enhancing the storyline.
Backed by technicians, safety crew, and medical support, a Cirque tour is an experience for its participants unlike any other, Sawyer said.
“My favorite thing about the tour is being able to perform in various cities and translate my newfound passion for the circus family I am now part of,” he said. “I am one proud athlete turned into an artist.”
“Cirque du Soleil Crystal” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 2 through Saturday, May 5, with an additional 4 p.m. show Saturday, and 1:30 and 5 p.m. shows on Sunday, May 6 at the Spokane Arena. Tickets range between $47 and $127.
For more information, visit www.SpokaneArena.com and www.CirqueduSoleil.com/crystal