Anyone who has witnessed a Cirque du Soleil performance has the visceral reaction of wanting to chuck it all and run away with the circus.
Problem is, less than one one-hundredth of the population is fit enough to do those death-defying aerial acts, precision acrobatics or contortionist moves that make up Cirque’s fabulous repertoire. You could run away, but you’d be selling drinks at the concession stand.
These people are world-class performers who have a billion times more flexibility, strength and grace than the rest of us mortals, and are capable of elegantly swinging from a trapeze, as in the show Saltimbanco or diving 60 feet above the ground into a little pool as they do in O.
So I was envisioning a nonstop buzz of performers hoisting weights, honing their splits and cardio-ing it up like nobody’s business as I headed for a meeting with some of the cast of the Cirque show Quidam.
It would take nothing less, I assumed, to maintain such phenomenal physiques and unique skills to nail those nightly gigs.
And then I met Jerome Le Baut.
The French former gymnast and acrobatic expert is one-half of the duo that performs Vis Versa, an astounding slo-mo piece in which one is often balancing the other in seemingly precarious positions â€” for example, he’s standing, she’s completely upside down, her shoulders resting on his.
I asked the dark-haired Le Baut, who’s 36 and extraordinarily lean, to tell me a little about his workout regime. He shrugged, admitted to some biking and also chasing his two young kids around, plus stretching and a little warm-up before performing.
No marathon Pilates sessions, no amazing feats of strength?
Nope. That and the show, he said, “are enough to keep me in shape.”
No one, in fact, is training for hours on end â€” not the guy who spins and twirls and does somersaults on the gigantic German wheel, not the woman who balances on her hands and twists her body into positions that would make you believe she doesn’t have a spine.
Hanging out here, it quickly became apparent that part of the performers’ challenge is saving enough energy for the show, which requires an enormous amount of physical activity and concentration.
Le Baut’s partner, 21-year-old Asa Kubiak has boot-camped it in Montreal, spending three months training for the Vis Versa number, increasing her upper body strength and honing her balance, agility and flexibility.
“Sometimes I felt like I was Rocky or something preparing for a competition,” she says, laughing. “I’d have a towel wrapped around my head to train my neck, and the coach would pull really hard.”
The result was “a total body makeover” that produced a more muscular physique. “I had no muscle mass before,” she said. (She is tall but thin, not what you’d expect someone to look like who’s able to support the weight of a grown man.) Now that her body’s in shape her workouts are not nearly as intense. Like others in the cast, the time she spends exercising ranges from zero to an hour or more, depending on what her body needs on a particular day.
Kubiak’s regimen consists of an assortment of disciplines. She picks and chooses from Pilates, stretching, ab work, yoga and cardio, which she’ll do on a stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical trainer. Strength training is done mostly with resistance and her own body weight.
“Every day I play on the Bosu ball,” she adds. “I’ll do handstands on it before the act. It’s a nice way to feel alignment.”
Some in-house exercise classes are taught by 33-year-old Philippa Hayball, who portrays a character and performs in a number called Aerial Hoops, twirling above the stage.
Hayball’s own workout incorporates Pilates, stretching, strength and balance, and core training, but little cardio: “During the show I run and run and run,” she says. “Especially if we do a 10-show week, that’s enough running for me.”
The other important element is rest. “I’m learning more about rest, actually,” Hayball said. “If you take a day off training and rejuvenate you come back stronger the next day.”