A Cirque du Soleil First Comes to Tokyo

A self-described “artistic entertainment company,” Cirque du Soleil has been wowing audiences around the world with its dramatic mix of theater, circus acts and street performances since its founding in Montreal in 1984. With its current repertoire of nine touring shows and twelve permanent shows, the company continues to blur the lines between circus and theater, while at the same time winning countless awards, setting and breaking numerous records, and garnering tremendous critical acclaim.

Now through January 1, 2011, those who purchase tickets to Zed can also enjoy Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea for only ¥1,000 extra. The Zed + Park Plan is available  from ¥13,000 per person and tickets can be purchased online at www.zed.co.jp. For more information call 0570-02-8777.

Tokyo’s very first permanent Cirque show is Zed, which opened nearly two years ago at a purpose-built theater attached to Tokyo Disneyland. Gemma Segarra, a spokeswoman for the show, says that during the nearly two years that it has been running, it has gradually evolved into the smoothly running well-oiled machine that it is now. The performers, who are all at the very top of their fields, rarely make mistakes, which is good not only because the audience enjoys it, but also because some acts—including the high wire—don’t use safety nets. This level of skill and confidence could easily lend itself to ambivalence, but happily that is not the case with the Cirque du Soleil. “The most important thing is for the performers to have fun,” says Segarra. “If they’re not enjoying themselves, that’s when mistakes start to happen and things become dangerous.”

One group of artists that are not content to rest on their laurels is Zed’s flying trapeze act. Made up of mostly South Americans from the Galvis and Farfan families of performers, they are a tightly knit troupe both on and off the stage. Their desire for excellence, along with their extreme trust in one another, has led them to constantly grow and improve within their act. “They are not happy just doing the same thing,” says former Zed artistic director Ann-Marie Corbeil. “They are always pushing themselves.”

Leader, coach and big-brother figure of the trapeze troupe Pedro Farfan sees it as part of his job to ensure that his team is constantly striving to be better and seeking out new challenges. “I try to put a different vision on them,” says Pedro. “In this group we have great talent, but I think I need to push [the team] a little bit, because you lose the energy you have on the stage if you don’t push during training.”

One of the flying trapeze troupe’s two female performers, Olga Poema, has been practicing a triple tuck since joining Pedro and his team at Cirque du Soleil in Tokyo, but had never actually performed it in a Zed show. The move, which has the flyer somersaulting three times in the air before being caught by her teammate, requires incredible strength, speed, timing, and above all, trust between the two performers. Olga had performed the trick before joining the Cirque du Soleil, but it was always with her husband as the catcher, and having Pedro as her new catcher required starting over from scratch.

“When I came here, Pedro was always asking me to do it, but I wasn’t sure because it’s totally different here,” Olga says. “The measurements are a little bit different, and it was a little bit like I didn’t want to open up. But Pedro pressured me a lot and opened my door a little bit. So when I started practicing, I worked with him and not the catcher I have now, because to do something hard, you have to trust the guy in front of you.”

After nailing the triple in a training session on July 31 this year, Olga felt that she was ready to try it before a live audience the next day. When her turn came, she pushed off from the platform and swung out on the trapeze. Audience members held their breath as she spun through the air three times, but as she reached out to grab onto Pedro’s outstretched arms, their hands brushed each other’s and she fell into the net below; the timing had been off by just a fraction of a second, enough to foil Olga’s attempt at a triple. “I feel angry,” Olga said in the green room after the show. “Because I knew what I had to do and I didn’t do it. But I still have focus, and if not today, tomorrow. If not tomorrow, after that; but I won’t give up.”

Olga’s perseverance and the support of her teammates paid off. On August 2, she became the first-ever female trapeze artist to perform a triple tuck in a Cirque du Soleil show, and one of very few females in the world to have ever accomplished this amazing feat. “I felt very excited and happy,” says Olga. “I could hear my friends and colleagues screaming, even from backstage. And the moment I caught Pedro’s hands I felt butterflies in my stomach. When I returned to my position, I could see Pedro’s happy face and I felt a strong connection to him. It was also a very important moment for him as a coach. I achieved my goal and I’m very proud of being in this show.”

After the show, the team celebrated along with Olga, each one of them just as happy about her accomplishment as she was. “Now I can see how they appreciate what I did. It made the team stronger,” Olga says. “All my teammates felt the same happiness as me, because they understand how much it means to train very hard and achieve a goal, to grow in the act.”

But the act isn’t stopping here. Next up for the troupe is yet another difficult and impressive move, this time by flyer Richard Galvis. As one of the world’s top trapeze artists, Richard has been performing triple pikes for years, and he is now practicing a quadruple. If—or when—he does it during a performance of Zed one day, it will be yet another Cirque du Soleil first. “I’ve done them before, maybe ten years ago, but I stopped,” says Richard. “But now when I came here, I want to do it again, especially for the company. Because nobody has ever done this, so I want to be the first one here.”

Weekender has a pair of tickets to Zed to give away to one lucky reader! To enter to win, email us at [email protected] and let us know which Zed act you’re most looking forward to and why. Write by September 20 for your chance to win, and don’t forget to include ‘Zed tickets’ in the subject line. Good luck!