Cirque du Soleil returns to the Royal Albert Hall, with it’s incredible and ground breaking 30th anniversary production of LUZIA, which brings traditional and contemporary circus disciplines to a whole new level. With inspired acrobatic performances from an international cast, who display breath-taking acts of strength and agility, combined with playfulness and striking artistry, Healthy Living London’s Lucinda caught up with one of the show’s leading ladies, and fellow Londoner, Shelli Epstein to find out just what it takes to be a performing artist in one of the world’s greatest circus companies.
LUZIA is themed around a ‘Waking Dream of Mexico’ and invites the audience to escape to an imaginary and enchanting world suspended between dreams and reality. Brand new acts and special effects include incorporating rainfall into acrobatic sequences – a feat that has never been used before at the iconic London venue and is also a first for a Cirque du Soleil touring production.
As a Londoner, how does it feel to be performing one of the lead characters in Luzia in front of your hometown at the Royal Albert Hall?
I grew up in Hendon, in north-west London, so I feel so excited to be performing here at the Royal Albert Hall. It feels like a dream. From the first moment I run out on the stage, I get goose bumps. I can only describe it as a euphoric experience.
How long have you worked as a circus artist and what inspired you to join Cirque du Soleil?
I have been with Cirque for four years, since this show opened. I was working for another circus show in China, when I auditioned for Luzia, and was so happy to get offered the part. I immediately accepted and haven’t looked back. I first saw a performance of Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall with my family, when I was about 11-years-old. After that show, I said to my parents, this is what I wanted to do, and so it really is a dream come true!
You started out as a gymnast, how important is that for a career in the circus?
Gymnastics is a great foundation, although Cirque also looks for other factors, such as performance and being versatile – so someone who has all attributes. It definitely helps if you can sing and act as well as being an acrobat.
Tell us about your character in Luzia, Running Woman?
Running Woman is a character inspired by the Tarahumaras, a native Mexican tribe, renowned for their ultra-marathon and bare-foot running ability. She is part monarch butterfly, part woman, and as she runs and spreads her “butterfly wings” she represents the annual journey the monarch butterfly makes as it migrates from southern Canada to central Mexico. She is a very strong female character, and I feel very proud to represent that.
You’re also a Russian swing flyer, which looks incredible, but also terrifying! Do you get nervous at all?
Yes! If I didn’t get nervous, then it’s a concern. I still have fear, and that keeps me in check, and keeps me focused and present. It is a little “out there” performing in the swing-to-swing, but I love it. I manage my nerves with a breathing technique, similar to that used in yoga, and this is really helpful.
What does a typical working day look like for you? What time do you wake / eat / train?
I like to go to a workout class in the mornings. Here in London, I have been enjoying Barry’s Boot Camp, which is great! I love my workouts. They’re my “me time” and I really value that time for myself. I then fuel my body with good, nutritious food, before starting to prepare for the show. First getting in character and applying my make-up, then warming up before it’s showtime!
What does your training routine entail?
Alongside morning workouts, my training is specific to the disciplines I am performing in. For the Russian Swing, we practice 3x a week on stage to maintain and build on our routines and try new things. I am also a back-up hoop diver, so we also have 3x practices a week for this as well. I have a weakness in my ankle, so I also have to be disciplined in maintaining that with regular physio exercises, that I do 3-4x a week. We have physios who travel with the company, that help to keep any niggles and injuries in check, which is great.
What is the greatest challenge you have encountered in your work?
The Russian swing has been the biggest mental challenge for me to overcome. It has really tested me as person, to see what I can endure and overcome, in terms of mental blocks and fear factors. I have been able to come back stronger than I thought and that’s been really good, and rewarding.
What do you love most about your job?
The people I get to work with every day! Everyone is so happy and positive and motivating. It’s wonderful working alongside people from so many different nationalities, and who are so willing to teach and learn. It’s an amazing place to work. I feel so lucky.
How do you relax on your days off and what do you like to do?
I am really enjoying spending time with family and friends and making the most of my time here with them. I left home at age 18, and so I feel like I am falling in love with London all over again! It’s such an amazing city and has so much to offer. I’ve been to the theatre and just been enjoying walking around and taking in the architecture. It’s so pleasantly charming.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming a performing artist in Cirque du Soleil?
My word of advice is that hard work pays off. If you have a goal set in your mind, just go for it and follow your dream!