How 'Cirque' Performers Get From Stage Left To Stage Right (And Back Again) So Quickly

May 3, 2018

Creativity is key for Cirque du Soleil as it transitions tent performances of "Corteo" to large arenas, as it does this weekend when the show comes to Cincinnati's U.S. Bank Arena.

The old way of doing it involved running underneath bleachers. That doesn't work in an arena, so Cirque du Soleil commissioned the building of a machine last year that solves the problem.

The machine, called the Crossover, zooms performers underneath the stage to get them in place on the other side in less than 40 seconds.

The "Crossover" machine.
Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU

Tour Publicist Max Batista says the audience is thinking, "Wait, this person just crossed and is crossing again to the other side. How's this possible? Do they have twins here?"

He likens the Crossover machine to a zipline, explaining the acrobats tuck their costumes in, lay down on an inflatable mat and grab a rope. It zips them to the other side of the stage in a very small space under the stage. There is even a safety mechanism where if they don't let go of the rope the machine will stop.

If 40 seconds isn't soon enough for the performer, he or she will start pulling themselves until the rope kicks in. The rope goes both ways and six performers at a time can ride it.

"Corteo" is a celebration of the life of a clown who imagines his death and reconnects with all those he shared his life with. Artistic Director Mark Shaub told WVXU contributor Jim Stump it's not all about technology. "There's a lot of humanity in the show and it expresses itself in interesting ways. Certainly there are characters that you could meet in real life."

A scene from "Corteo."
Credit Provided

Highlights include:

  • A teeter board act
  • A Russian cradle
  • An aerial act on chandeliers
  • An acrobat on a ladder
  • Jugglers

An aerial act from "Corteo."
Credit Provided

Automation is key to the show. Acrobats depend on Cirque's Arena Rigging Specialist Robert Tita. He directs a local crew of 100 people and inspects all of the trusses -- there are more than 1,000.

"It's like a puzzle. All those trusses come together like Legos and they are put in place with pins rated 10,000-15,000 pounds," he says. 

Corteo first premiered in Montreal in 2005 and visited more than 60 cities in 19 countries as a Big Top show before transitioning in an arena show in 2016.

Corteo