When over fifty Cirque du Soleil acrobats from eighteen countries around the world rehearse for Corteo, which opens Thursday, May 24, at 1STBANK Center, language can be a stumbling block, says acrobat Francis Croft. He's from Montreal, and his first language is French. Other acrobats speak Russian, Italian or Polish. Almost everyone speaks English — more or less — but with eighteen dialects, cast members often struggle to understand each other’s words. Even so, that doesn’t stop communication.
As the acrobats choreograph and rehearse, Croft says they express themselves through gestures, not always relying on fluency in English.
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“It’s a very rich experience,” says Croft, who spent fifteen years as a professional gymnast before launching his career as a performer and ultimately joining Cirque in 2017. “Sometimes we don’t speak English very well, and it’s very interesting to see us understand each other, even if we don’t speak the same language. You learn a lot about communication and how it’s not all about words.”
Cirque du Soleil has perfected the art of the poetic circus, using physical gestures, acrobatics and lavish production design to create tightly orchestrated, jaw-dropper shows that deal with life’s sweeping themes of love, death and existential quandaries, all without leaning on the trappings of words.
Corteo, one of the company's long-lasting productions, is the story of a clown imagining his own funeral, which looks a lot like a 1920s carnival. It’s surreal, and leans more on traditional circus aesthetics than other Cirque du Soleil productions like Luzia, which premiered in Denver in 2017.
Croft relishes the chance to perform as himself rather than playing the part of a bug, a monster or some other creature, as he might in a different show. “Here, we are just humans," he says. "You see us in our makeup. On stage, we get called by our names. It’s a different approach and much more humane.”
Performing in Cirque du Soleil may be humane, but it comes with risks that performers and crew are hesitant to talk about much. In March, acrobat Yann Arnaud fell to his death at a performance in Florida. In 2016, a technician, Olivier Rochette, was killed by a telescoping lift used in the production design. And in 2013, acrobat Sarah Guyard-Guillot died after a safety wire detached.
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“There is risk in our jobs,” says Croft, who declines to speak about specific incidents out of respect for his fellow performers. “For some, the risk is bigger. But it’s a risk that we are willing to take. It can be sometimes very sad.”
Cirque performers are on the road nonstop, living out of hotels and bonding day in and day out with their colleagues. Even when all is well, shows are physically demanding. But for the performers, being a part of something as large as Cirque de Soleil is its own reward, particularly when they consider their craft's impact on a fan.
“There is a feeling that you accomplished something,” Croft says. “You get to nourish thousands of people and their imagination. You make people laugh and you make people cry. It’s very inspirational, and it’s fulfilling.”
Cirque du Soleil's Corteo opens Thursday, May 24, and runs through Sunday, May 27, at 1STBANK Center, 11450 Broomfield Lane, Broomfield, 303-410-8497. From May 31 to June 3, the show will be at U.S. Budweiser Events Center, 5290 Arena Circle, Loveland, 970-619-4100.