Ice Network

Cirque du Soleil show blends acrobatics, skating

Browning, Agosto helping to bring authenticity to performances in 'Crystal'
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Cirque du Soleil is bringing its signature large-scale, high-flying productions to the ice in a new show called 'Crystal.' -Matt Beard

The renowned entertainment company Cirque du Soleil will mark its 42nd production with its first foray on ice. Crystal, which opened last week in Lafayette, Louisiana, fuses circus arts and acrobatics with skating.

"We're all excited and very emotional," said Daniel Fortin, the show's executive creative director. "The public gave us great acclimation. We're so proud."

Fortin said Cirque du Soleil is always searching for new ways to tell stories, and that an ice show has been on people's minds at the company for a long time.

"This is another language we wanted to explore," said Fortin, who oversees all of Cirque du Soleil's projects. "This one is a special one for us. The whole family of Cirque is excited."

The show's main character, Crystal, is a dreamer who she sets out on a quest to fulfill her destiny as she dives into a world of her own imagination. A reflection of herself, an alter ego, guides her in her adventure.

The show is about looking at things from fresh angles -- and that is what Cirque du Soleil is trying to do for the concept of a skating production. Skaters and acrobats work in tandem, each exploring the other's discipline.

"We discovered how we can integrate to make it one," Fortin said. "There is a mix in this show that I think no one has done before.

"For us, we love the journey of discovery," he added. "When you create something like that, there are always difficult parts. … There was never a doubt we would achieve it."

Kurt Browning is the skating performances senior designer, Benjamin Agosto the skating performances designer, and Marilyn Langlois the synchronized skating designer.

"They're trying to teach us how it works," Fortin said. "Kurt really tried to push what we can do with ice skating."

Married adagio skaters Robin Johnstone and Andy Buchanan said they've been waiting for Cirque du Soleil to develop an ice show. The pair have toured with Disney on Ice and most recently with Holiday on Ice, and appeared on the British TV series Dancing on Ice.

"A lot of ice shows now are incorporating a little bit of aerials," Johnstone said. "We did silks on (Holiday on Ice) "Believe," but this show we have half figure skaters, half acrobats. We've got clowns and's all these different artists coming together.

"They're trying to incorporate us working with the acrobats and the acrobats skating, bringing our worlds together," Johnstone continued.

As the acrobats become more adept at skating and the skaters learn more acrobatics, elements of the show will continue to evolve.

"In the finale, there are two acrobats throwing Robin eight feet across the ice, and I catch her around my neck," he said. "It's really pushing us and making us better."

The creative process for Crystal began about a year ago. The performers rehearsed in Canada for 2 1/2 months and then spent another 2 1/2 weeks in Louisiana.

Johnstone and Buchanan appear throughout the show and are able to do some of their signature moves as well as intricate acrobatics. Learning the acrobatics has been challenging, but they say they're improving every day.

"We have world champion acrobats in the show, and getting to their level and making it seamless between the skaters and the acrobats and vice versa, that's the hardest part," Buchanan said. "We're part of something bigger than ourselves."