Cirque du Soleil finds the coolest setting for 'Crystal'

Thursday, 16 November 2017, 01:45:07 AM. While Cirque Du Soleil lays claim to more than 40 productions, adding the element of ice brought with it a slew of challenges.

Three times in her life, Madeline Stammen has sat down at her computer and pressed “send” on a flurry of college applications, convinced that perhaps it was time to put her ice skating dreams on hold and instead pursue a scholarly degree.

And three times, the phone rang, and she was off to another adventure.

Her latest adventure just might be her most rewarding, as the St. Charles native is starring as the character “Crystal’s Reflection” in the brand new “Crystal by Cirque du Soleil” production that arrives in Chicago for a string of shows this weekend at Sears Centre Arena.

‘CRYSTAL BY CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’
When: Various times, Nov. 16-19
Where: Sears Centre Arena, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates
Tickets/info: cirquedusoleil.com/crystal

“I was planning to go to NYU to go to engineering school, but then Cirque was looking for skaters,” Stammen explained in a recent phone chat. “We always laugh because my mom would say ‘we are going to spend all this time and money on college and she will end up being the back of a horse in some ice show.’ ”

Of course, this is no ordinary ice show. Marking the first time the world-renown Cirque du Soleil has tackled the slippery surfaces of an ice “stage,” the show utilizes the talents of both skaters and acrobats to produce a production that defies imagination.

“Not only does the ice offer the metaphor of coolness but it also allows us to project a number of images onto the ice, allowing for the completely evolution of the entire stage,” explained the show’s artistic director, Fabrice Lemire. “This company is always looking for ways to push boundaries, so exploring the ice element was just another piece of their story.”

The production follows the story of Crystal, a young woman who attempts to fulfill her destiny despite life’s challenges, and discovering that sometimes, you must walk on thin ice to find your true potential.

While Cirque Du Soleil has been around for more than 30 years and lays claim to more than 40 productions, adding the element of ice brought with it a slew of challenges.

“There were just so many logistics involved,” said Lemire. “How could we re-create for the ice the elements that Cirque de Soleil is known for? The ice ended up bringing not only a speed element, but also an emotional element.”

There was only one problem: The acrobats weren’t skaters, and the skaters weren’t acrobats.

The acrobats of Cirque du Soleil’s “Crystal” had to learn to ice skate as part of their challenging routines. | MATT BEARD

“Many of the acrobats had absolutely no skating experience, so we had to train them a whole new set of skills to already advanced acrobats,” explained Lemire, who coincidentally studied dance as a child because he dreamed of becoming a professional ice skater. “We also have accomplished skaters that had no acrobat skills, so yes, it can be a challenge.”

Another challenge for the production was the relatively short time the performers had to prepare for it.

“A Cirque show usually takes nine months to prepare, and this one was just a little over two months,” said Stammen. “Everything was done in hyper speed. In fact, we are still morphing the show a tad each night. …  I had to do a ton of aerial training. As a skater, I have never had to work my upper body as much as I am doing now.”

And while the show is touring cities throughout the United States and Canada throughout mid-2018, Lemire says there is always a chance that the show might find a permanent home somewhere. “That hasn’t been talked about quite yet, but it’s something that I would assume that they would explore in which we could have a residency somewhere on the ice,” he says. “You just never know what one’s future holds.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.

“Crystal by Cirque du Soleil.” | MATT BEARD

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