As I write this week's column, Hurricane Matthew has sputtered out of Central Florida, leaving behind downed tree limbs and gorgeous blue skies in time for this Saturday's return of the Creative City Project. One of my favorite articles from earlier this year was my coverage of the Creative City's kickoff workshop back in June, which featured Cirque du Soleil artistic director Daniel Ross discussing how he keeps Cirque's long-running La Nouba production at Disney Springs looking sharp.
Shortly before the big storm, I experienced the product of Ross's creative processes in person at the recently refreshed La Nouba and spoke to Ross about introducing two new acts into such a tightly integrated show.
"We were mandated to make some changes to the show, and we all felt that it was well needed, so the first thing that we did was look at the positions we wanted to fill," Ross told me, spelling out the steps behind adding new segments to a Cirque show. "We looked at the creative context and the initial impulse at creation with the director and writers and choreographer. We really needed to find something that would complement that and respect the concept of the show."
Replacing the opening jump-rope routine, La Nouba's first new troupe members are an international trio of breakdancers: Josh "Incredible Josh" Ortiz, Jean Carlos "Bebo" Lloret and Dmytro "Flying Buddha" Li.
"The opening of La Nouba is the cleaning lady who opens up a magic world," Ross says. "The first act is really about urbanity, as if she's found herself in the traffic of the city where there is a lot of people that are not paying attention to her. We really needed that city grit, that city-street feel, and we felt that breakdancing was a good idea."
La Nouba's first half reaches a peak (literally and figuratively) with its high-flying second addition. "It used to be a high wire act tightrope," Ross says. "The director really wanted to bring up the traditional circus, as if the cleaning lady was reliving memories of her childhood, remembering the time she went to the circus with her mom or her dad, seeing this beautiful lady and man up there. And at the same time, because we are in the city there was a bit of a tribute to Philippe Petit, the wire walker that walked across the Twin Towers. We wanted to preserve that, so we knew we wanted an aerial act."
Ross's answer was found in acrobatic aerialists Alexander and Ekaterina Abramov, who perform on a suspended pole-shaped apparatus known as a "bamboo." "We fell upon this, which was an act we had before in a show in China. You don't see [aerial bamboo] around much anymore; looking for it, we only found this one couple. So it's something that doesn't really roam the streets so much, even in the European circus. We still wanted a love story so we decided to go for the aerial bamboo, so we could keep that traditional aerial character, but at the same time provide something special to the audience that they rarely see." If you can't afford admission to La Nouba (half-price kids' tickets are currently available) you can still enjoy the Abramovs' act for free when they appear above Orange Avenue during this Saturday's Creative City Project.
"The first Creative City that we did three years ago, the vibe that I got from it was like Nuit Blanche ("White Night"), like in Paris or Montreal. All night there's cultural activities going on all over the city," Ross says, recalling Cirque's initial collaboration with Creative City. "It felt a lot like this, and for me this is one of the things that Orlando needs. For [Cirque] to be such an important fixture in the entertainment world in Orlando, I think we need to get involved."
Transporting La Nouba's act outside their custom-built theater isn't easy, but Ross has made participation in the Project a priority. "It's hard for us because we work so much, and often on prime times on weekends we're not available. But for this, because of the importance of the event and my personal connection to it – it's something that really touches me – I said we're going to push to do something."
It's evident Ross makes the effort because he takes Cirque's cultural responsibility to our city seriously. "I think there's so much potential in the city. I arrived here about five years ago, and already in five years I see so much happening.
"Orlando is growing very quickly economically, but I think it's very important when a city is getting so big and powerful economically that there's a counterbalance on the artistic side. Part of our job as artists is to question and put things in perspective."