I am lucky to be no stranger to the world of Cirque du Soleil—I’ve seen every production that’s come through Atlanta, starting with Alegria as a small child and growing up with the company. Last week, I got the chance to see their newest production, Amaluna, in the big top.
Each Cirque performance has a rough narrative they follow. For example, Corteo followed the story of a clown witnessing his own funeral. Dralion celebrated Chinese culture and combined it with Cirque’s unique brand of style and talent. The current touring production, Amaluna, takes place on a mystical island. A goddess’ daughter is coming of age, and meets a strange boy washed up on the beach. They must journey through trials and tribulations to be together, and overcome great obstacles to find love.
After the show, I met up with Cirque du Soleil’s head of wardrobe, Larry Edwards, to discuss how their costumes are created, and how they change and adapt with the performances.
Above: Edwards holds the peacock apparatus worn by performers. It needs to be light enough to balance on the wearer’s back, but also sturdy enough to not flop over.
Creating the Amaluna Look
Amaluna’s costumes were designed by Quebec artist Mérédith Caron, and assembled by 20 people over half a year. They start off as wild and beautiful illustrations (as seen in the gallery above), and careful artisans take great pains to shape, cut, paint and sew together the fabrics and materials. Since the show takes place on an island, Caron sought to work with natural materials, like leather, linen and denim. Edwards told me that most circus performers are used to wearing a fabric called lycra, which is very thin and stretchy (think: the stuff bathing suits are made out of), but the material doesn’t hold up for long periods of time. They wash the costumes after every show, which could be between 90-120 washes per city. If you’ve ever washed a bathing suit more than a few times, you’ll have an idea of how quickly lycra breaks down.
Instead, natural fibers have much more give, and are much more durable. In fact, as these fabrics are washed and begin to break down, they not only become more comfortable to wear and conformed to the performers’ bodies, they also begin to evoke the character of an island.
Above: The Valkyries’ vests, one new and one old. You can see the faded, earthen look and compare it to the sterile, overly polished new look. (Click the image to enlarge)
As the costumes fade and change in the wash, they are touched up—Edwards travels from city to city with several other artists who are responsible for tailoring and alterations, as well as touching up gold paint and other patina. The stretched denim of the Teeterboard Boys’ costumes begins to fade, and the flocking washes off. They redye the denim, which results in different, but organic colors.
Above: A jacket from the Teeterboard Boy costume set
Sometimes, an illustration doesn’t translate directly into real life—there may be technical problems that can hinder a performance. When it comes to Cirque du Soleil, it’s an understatement to say a performer’s safety is important. The Amazons from the uneven bar act begin the show in a tight, thick leather corset as their parade costume. When they reappear in the show for their actual performance, the corset is gone and replaced with some sheer mesh to keep the top and bottom of the costume together. A major part of doing uneven bar tricks correctly is to feel the bar, and you can’t do that with a corset.
Above left: Amazons during opening parade. Above right: Amazons during uneven bar act.
Our story love interest, Romeo, is trapped in the underworld for a period of time in the show—he climbs up a tall pole, trying to escape, but slides down again and again, faster and faster. At one point, he slides down face first, stopping himself with only his legs at the very last moment. According to Edwards, this trick is done with zero padding in the costume—the performer is relying on his body awareness to do the trick.
This speaks again to the need for durable costumes. The only thing between Romeo and the pole is his costume, and it needs to hold up so he doesn’t get horribly injured.
In the early days of circus performance, makeup and adornments were a laborious process. Body paint would have to be redone by hand, over and over, wasting precious time and resources. Cirque du Soleil has three-dimensional body scanners at their home base in Montreal, and make full images of every performer coming through the troupe. From these scans, they can make body molds, cut out the patterns required by the costume, hold them up to a person’s body and simply airbrush.
Above: Edwards holds a body mold for one of the performers.
Amaluna will be performing at Atlantic Station in Atlanta through November 30, 2014.
After Atlanta, Amaluna will head to Miami and then to Houston. Tickets are on sale for all three cities.