'If your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough' Cirque du Soleil acrobat shares her story
Cirque du Soleil is the largest theatrical producer in the world, worth nearly one billion Canadian dollars and known internationally for spectacular shows that have played every single continent on planet Earth, bar Antarctica. Since its inception – over 30 years ago – Cirque du Soleil has won numerous awards including four Primetime Emmys, a Bambi, a Rose d'Or, three Drama Desk Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Here Mandy News talks to one of the company's busy acrobats Alanna Baker, who has enjoyed touring the world as a Cirque du Soleil character for five years.
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about how you got into the industry?
I'm Alanna Baker. I'm 25 years old and from West Sussex, England. For the past five years, I have been working for Cirque du Soleil, touring Australia, Taiwan, Japan and North America. In addition to my role as an acrobatic character, I also have the backup act of the show, on Cerceau (aerial hoop).
How did you become involved with Cirque du Soleil? And please tell us more about the OVO show!
Where do I start?! When I was eight years old, I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show, Dralion, in London at the Royal Albert Hall and that’s when my dream first started. I said to my parents that’s what I wanted to do when I’m older. Of course, for them they thought this was a long shot but were happy to keep me heading in that direction and the bigger the goals and dreams the better.
Neither of my parents did gymnastics but they decided to put me into it from a very young age of five. I guess I was always interested in it, doing handstands and cartwheels around the living room, garden, and wherever I found the space. My older brother used to train with me as well, so we’d train together. They both say they don’t know where our talents came from but I guess we were both naturally talented.
I started out in regular recreational classes at home in Storrington. Then I got moved into sports acrobatics gymnastics, so I was in a women’s pair or a trio, and I was a flyer to start with because I used to be small. Then I grew and I became a porter and had my own flyer. I started in Horsham and transferred to Heathrow; that was where I mainly trained and started competing for Great Britain. I went on to become European champion in 2011 and third in the world in 2012.
When I started competing for Great Britain and I was doing the major competitions – European championships, world championships, world cup – Cirque du Soleil became more noticeable and the talent scouts came to those competitions. So I started to see posters and stuff, and I was like, "OK, I’m starting to work in the right direction". Actually, we had a closed audition at my gym, so I thought: "I’m going to audition. I may as well, I’m still competing."
Then I spoke to a talent scout at the world championships and informed them I was interested and when I knew I was reaching my peak, I thought, "this is my best shot." I did the closed audition and, six months after I finished competing, I got a call to come and join. It was really being in the right place at the right time and having what they were looking for, because in acro-sport there’s not a whole variety of shows you can go on… maybe three shows in the whole of Cirque du Soleil with acro-sport; OVO, ‘O’ in Vegas and Varekai.
I then went to Montreal where the international headquarters for Cirque are and did a three month general training programme, not guaranteed a contract. Luckily enough I was what they were looking for and I got offered a contract to join OVO Big Top in Australia. Since then I have travelled to Taiwan, Japan, North America and now Europe.
OVO, meaning egg in Portuguese, is all about the day in the life on an insect and how, no matter who you are, what you look like, we accept one another and are a colony of fun and loving energy and excitement. I started out as a flea in the show and was originally the base in a women’s pair, because that was my background. That’s what I did with Poppy (my flyer from sport). I joined with a different flyer and did that for six months. Then I left because they were replacing the women’s pair for a mixed pair. Then I came back as the base in a trio, who were all fleas.
When I was in Japan I started to learn the Black Spider role. So, now I’m an acrobatic character and I do a bit of everything. I’m in the majority of the show, which for me I prefer. My main acts are diabolo – I don’t do diabolo, I’m the assistant – and then I am part of the contortion act. I’m on corde lisse, which I learnt when I was there, and wall; it’s like a big rock-climbing wall. You may have seen something similar in Deborah Colker’s other work.
Could you please tell us about what it takes to become fit for a show like OVO, and then to maintain that fitness throughout the schedule of performing?
For me, I’m very into fitness which helps a huge amount when working on any Cirque du Soleil production. It takes a lot of strength and agility to perform with ease and safety every night. Most artists already bring this with them from the sport they are experts in, but keeping that strength, maintaining and building on tour is also important, if you want to grow and improve in your repertoire.
I work out six days a week before I go into work and then usually have a training or two before the shows. For me, it’s my happy place. I go by myself and really get in the zone.
How long does pre-production for a show normally last?
I know that creating a Cirque du Soleil show can take up to two years or more as they literally start from scratch. But in my case with OVO, I did the transfer from big top to arena so it was a ‘re-creation’ process which only took around six months.
It was more adapting the show to make it suitable for viewing in arenas, meaning it needed to be looked at in a much larger scale as the seating area is a lot further in distance than our big-tops.
You said that you saw your first ever Cirque show when you were eight. How did that feel and how did it feel when you became a part of the company?
Still to this day I have to pinch myself when I’m on stage, realising that I’m actually lucky enough to be living my dream. I feel so privileged and lucky to be working in such an amazing company.
What is coming up for the rest of 2018 and beyond?
I’d love to continue to work with Cirque du Soleil for many years to come still. I’d like to do a creation of a new show and then end up in a resident show in Vegas in years to come, to settle down.
What advice would you give to any performers/dancers wanting to get into the industry?
Firstly, if your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough!
Never give up on those dreams. It takes a lot of dedication, hard work, sacrifices, failures, successes, lessons learnt day in day out. It all adds up. Remember nothing worth having comes easy, but my god will it be worth it in the end. If I can do it, so can you!
After an astonishing show at the BAFTA Film awards, OVO continues its Royal Albert Hall run until March 4.
OVO will then play dates in Belgium, Germany, Poland and Russia before touring the UK from August in cities such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Glasgow, Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Dublin and Belfast.Tags: