At their best, Cirque du Soleil shows give audiences the sense of stepping into a new world. Now, with its first-ever show on ice, the company has entered one of its own.
Daniel Fortin, the executive director of creation of 45 Degrees, the division of Cirque du Soleil that created “Crystal,” says the company had thought about producing an on-ice show for years, but “the planets just aligned” with the touring production that comes to Worcester’s DCU Center for six performances Dec. 7-10.
The story of “Crystal” follows the titular character through her journey toward self-empowerment. After falling through the ice of a frozen pond, Crystal, a writer, enters a surreal world that she must navigate until she finds confidence in herself and her abilities.
The show still features the dazzling acrobatics that are Cirque du Soleil’s trademark, Fortin says, but also on-ice tricks suited to the new environment. Acrobats still soar through the air as they do in all Cirque shows, but with some new additions.
“We wanted to make sure that we’re not just a Cirque show, or just an ice show,” Fortin says. “We wanted to make sure that we would create different numbers that mix both worlds, and this was the tough part, because again, we had to discover what was possible. It’s really exciting to discover new forms of a new medium of creation.”
For one, he says, skating allows the performers to move with a lot more speed than usual. In one act, skaters dressed as hockey players dart around the rink and shoot over ramps built to enhance their jumps, flipping and spinning midair. In another number, one performer swings through the air on ropes and comes down to the stage to meet another skater who propels her forward, adding more speed.
The performers, Fortin says, are gymnasts who learned how to skate for the show, and skaters who learned acrobatics.
“It was really fun because it was kind of a school, where the skaters were teaching acrobats how to skate and the other way around, where some circus artists were trying to understand how to do their jumps,” Fortin says. “It was so fast that they got together and tried to teach each other the ways of doing things. It was a real blast to see, and it really helped some artists.”
As with any Cirque show, the story line with “Crystal” came first; figuring out how to express that story with skating and acrobatics came next.
“[The artists] said, ‘You’re really asking us to show new ways of showing ice skating,’ ” Fortin says.
This was done, he says, by having different combinations of single skaters, couples, and groups on stage at a time, as well as including ice-specific stunts using both figure skates and hockey skates. Inline skaters, or rollerskaters, learned how to use their skills on the ice. Performers juggle while skating, swing from giant poles and a trapeze, tap dance on ice, and use their bladed boots to make music — like “beatboxing,” Fortin says.
To make all this work, the performers needed technology, costumes, and props specifically designed to be safe and effective while skating, Fortin says. Cirque du Soleil’s C:Lab designed and manufactured gloves and skates in which the acrobats could safely run, dance, and construct human pyramids. Technicalities like ensuring the ramps wouldn’t slip on the ice and finding clamps for the shoe blades also required research.
“It’s all in these tiny details,” Fortin says. Costumes were designed to withstand the cold, have enough padding to allow a skater to stand on another performer’s shoulders, and protect against cuts from skate blades. But they were also designed with an artistic purpose, as links between Crystal’s reality and the surreal world of the show.
“[The costumes] are all created like they’re drawn like a 2-D character,” Fortin says. “There’s this thing that you link to the normal life, but with this extra touch that you have the impression that you’re really in another world. That was the goal of these costumes — you can understand that it’s something that Crystal took from the real life, but she gave her own little spice to them.”
The music, too, was written to highlight the fast pace of the show and give “the impression you’re watching a film,” Fortin says. “And [it] makes people forget where they are.”
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S CRYSTAL
At DCU Center, Worcester, Dec. 7-10. Tickets from $33, www.cirquedusoleil.com/crystalKaitlyn Locke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ke_locke.