Cirque Life, part 2

In my first blog, I told IG readers about my new adventure with Cirque du Soleil and how much I have enjoyed the creation of IRIS to this very day. It really is amazing how time flies in life, and when I take a moment to reflect back on my life as a competitive gymnast and where I am now, I get goose bumps.

It’s been seven months since I joined this project, and I am proud to announce that IRIS opened magnificently on Thursday, July 21, 2011. While this is just a “soft” opening (meaning the general public is invited to view the complete show as it stands now), it is still an accomplishment, and I would like to publicly thank Cirque du Soleil for providing me with the opportunity to perform in an amazing show.

Also, a hearty congratulations goes out to the cast, crew and production team at IRIS, as we have all worked very hard and I believe it shows. Lastly, thank you to everyone who has supported me in this adventure. I have received so many exciting letters and online postings mentioning how elated people are to see IRIS. That is the fuel that keeps me going in this direction.

In a short and sweet sentence, I will say this: The July opening of IRIS was a highly anticipated event for not only our new home city of Los Angeles, but for all of us involved in the show. It went very smoothly and before I knew it we were at the end of the show, on stage, taking in a standing ovation.

In the weeks leading up the premiere, our workload was not the only thing that increased. Within the cast there was a bubbling of excitement, as we were ready to show this new baby to the world. I use the word baby, because that is what this show is at this stage. We still have two more months of previews, while minor changes are made. As a result, this show is going to evolve: it will only get better and develop more personality and character as time goes by. Sept. 25 marks another big date as it is our premiere, or hard opening. It is the next big moment for Team IRIS.

Bhavsar snaps a photo in the Cirque du Soleil dressing room

Without spoiling it for everyone, I will reference here the essence of our show. Official text states:

“This new production from Cirque du Soleil is a lyrical, fanciful, kinetic foray into the seventh art. Bringing together dance, acrobatics, live video, filmed sequences and animation, the show takes spectators on a fantastic voyage through the history of cinema and its genres, taking them into the heart of the movie-making process. From illustration to animation, black and white to colour, silent films to talkies, fixed shots to swooping camera movements, spectators witness the poetic construction/ deconstruction of this art as an object and as a way of transcending reality.”

You also catch on to a fantastical love story between Buster, a melancholic composer and Scarlett, who longs to become a star. In this great escapade, you will see Buster traveling through different circus environments on his way to finding his one true love. Also scattered throughout the show are several movie references, so it is fun to watch and see where this show gets its food.

One of the most common questions I get from my family and friends is, “Raj, what are you doing in the show?” Until now, I have spoken in generalities to just a few of my closest people, but now that we have opened, and I know you will come see the show soon, it makes sense to also give you a sneak peek into my role on IRIS.

As a Cirque du Soleil artist, I have the opportunity to be in many acts throughout the show. Our acrobatic cast of 20-plus artists is fully loaded with talent and years of experience. I consider myself fortunate to among such a group.

I would call “roof tops” my main act and it’s heavy! This explosive cops-and-robbers chase scene is full of trampoline tricks, parkour, high bar and column work (colonne). Fifteen very talented acrobats jumping and flying around on a multilevel structure resembling a roof top scene from Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy” is my kind of scene. Most of my creation time in Montreal was dedicated to training this number and there are so many elements involved that to me it is the gymnasts’ ultimate playground.

Putting into words my entire track would put us into the New Year so I’ll just tell you to look for a short policeman in a purple uniform with a black eye. We run and jump off rooftops, swing around poles and disappear into houses, all while stunt fighting, acting and dodging machine gun fire. One of my favorite tricks is a fifteen foot long jump from a tramp, flying over a second tramp, to land in a doorway Jason Bourne style. It is not fun when I miss this one, but the thrill is immense when I hit it.

Perched near the top of the structure is a half-length high bar 20 feet high on which I and another acrobat perform. I’m used to a high bar eight feet high with mats under me; this one is more than double the height and we dismount to our backs on the trampoline bed. Currently there is a crash mat under us as the bounce afterward is something only birds are used to. When I arrived in Montreal and saw the high bar structure for the first time, I was silent. I never would have believed that I would some day conquer it, but just like gymnastics, Cirque emphasizes step-by-step training and safety. This has led to many successful high bar dismounts from both me and my fellow high bar artist, a former gymnast from France. Our final trick as of now: giant, giant, layout flyaway … drop 20 feet to our back, then double kaboom. I am still working toward this; my kaboom was never the best, so I might land on my back and bounce rotating forward. Either way, we fly.

While high bar is something I am used to training as a gymnast, column work, or “colonne,” on the trampoline was something I never did before in my life. In short, colonne is when acrobats stack on top of each other by standing on each others’ shoulders sometimes three to four people high. As a gymnast, I believe we have the ability to pick up sports and new skills very naturally, and colonne has become a new talent I never knew I had. You may have seen acrobats in other shows do flips from a teeterboard and land on a tower of people. This is the same concept except that we are on a trampoline and the person on the bottom (porter) is working extra hard due to the lack of a hard surface for solid support. The colonne team in this act has spent many hours learning tricks that are very appealing to the eye. We do back flips and land on our porter’s shoulders every night – it’s become quite fun and challenging.

Though July 21 has come and gone, we still have work to do before our premiere in September. We rarely get to see our own show live, but I do get to see the reaction on people’s faces which tells me enough. Even my toughest critics, my parents, were all smiles after this one.

I’ve really enjoyed plugging my fans and readers into this adventure-of-a-lifetime. Stay tuned — in my final installment I will be sharing with you what it means to be performing in a world-class show, on a world-class stage, with world-class people.