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Behind the Scenes: Cirque du Soleil Headquarters

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Cirque du Soleil costume shop
During a visit to Cirque HQ I saw a woman working on the headpieces for Ovo, opening Nov. 4 in Atlanta.

Admit it – nothing makes us feel as special as being allowed access to somewhere others can’t go. Otherwise how would you explain “VIP sections” that are merely a step away from the ordinary folks but barricaded by a velvet rope and a  somber suit-wearing giant whose sole goal is to keep people like you away from people like them?

I felt all kinds of special when I got to visit the headquarters of Cirque du Soleil this summer, but the thrills weren’t only because so few people are granted access. It’s because this is where it all starts – the origins of the dozens of action-packed shows that play in more than 40 countries. I was with a small group of journalists visiting for Montreal’s first-ever circus festival, with one of our highlights being a visit to the headquarters.

We were ushered into the gray eight-story building whose colorless exterior gave away nothing of the colorful magic that begins inside. (Okay, that sounds a bit clichéd, but really, have you seen a Cirque show? How else would you describe it? They are freakin’ magic!)

Some of the headpieces and wigs at the Cirque costume shop.

Every artist hired by Cirque comes here for a training session and as we roamed through several of the rooms we saw young, muscular people training, rehearsing, working out or just hanging out in the café.

As we peeked into one of the three acrobatic training rooms, we saw men and women of all nationalities practicing super-hero feats of traveling up and down ropes, over and over, their bodies tightly packed into form-fitting outfits, as they swung back and forth, employing muscle groups I’m fairly certain have atrophied in my own body if indeed they ever existed.

My favorite part of the tour was the costume area, where more than 400 artisans work to make the 25,000 items needed for the shows. This includes every hat, shoe, headpiece – you name it. To get just the right colors, they even dye their own fabrics. These costumes not only have to look good, they have to be able to bend and stretch as much as the artists do.

Shoes for Cirque performers.

As we walked through the various areas, we saw men and women seated at  stations, painstakingly adding one hair at a time to headpieces. One person’s job may be just to create the wigs for a particular show.

They have to keep an extra costume for each one used in a show, and these are all lined up and marked. The amount of work and detail required for each costume is really unbelievable and gives me even more appreciation for each Cirque show.

We also saw the make-up artist  instructing a new performer on how to apply his make-up, as each performer does his or her own before every show.

Having had a peek, I’m even more excited to go see Ovo, the new Cirque show opening in Atlanta Thursday. The show is “an immersion into the teeming and energetic world of insects,” generally not my favorite creatures, although I’m sure I’ll find them much more appealing wearing fancy costumes and on a stage rather than crawling across the floor of my office. The

An artist gets a make-up lesson.

story starts when a mysterious egg appears and we are witnesses to the events in the secret world.

Ovo plays in Atlanta through December 14, then travels to Frisco, TX, Houston and Cincinnati. Click here for ticket information.

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