Give Lauren Herley enough rope, and she’ll give you aerial acrobatics.
The 24-year-old member of Cirque Éloize — pronounced “el-waz” — will perform body twists, climbs and drops above the Proctors stage when the Montreal-based troupe brings its “Cirkopolis” production to town next week for its North American premiere.
Billed as a combination of circus, dance and theater, the show begins a 21⁄2-week summer run at the Schenectady theater on Wednesday.The engagement marks the beginning of a five year partnership between Proctors and Cirque Éloize.
Curtain for the first show is 7 p.m.
Cirque Éloize: ‘Cirkopolis’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Aug. 7 to 24
HOW MUCH: $65-$20
MORE INFO: www.proctors.org
Cirque Éloize toured with “Cirkopolis” in Europe last year and will open in Montreal this September after its Schenectady run. According to the troupe’s website, the show features 12 acrobats and multidisciplinary artists who rebel against monotony, reinvent themselves and challenge the limits of the factory-city, Cirkopolis.
The word “cirque” can be used for circus.
A story through artistry
“Better to explain it is they’re the shows we would think of as the kind of shows that come out of Europe and Montreal that are non-animal based,” said Richard Lovrich, Proctors’ marketing director. “There are no animals in them and they use traditional and contemporary circus artistry to tell a story in some fashion.”
Jugglers, contortionists and physical artists challenging giant wheels and teeterboards will show off skill sets. Projections on the group’s back wall, complete with pivoting panels used by the performers, help artistic director Jeannot Painchaud achieve a surrealistic setting. “Our simple, yet powerful imagery leads the audience on a fictional journey,” Painchaud says in press materials.
“Our show is an incredibly acrobatic show,” said Herley, who was born and raised in Seattle but now speaks with a slight French accent — thanks to living the past four years in Montreal. “We’re 12 artists on stage, but it’s not something like a cabaret where you see an act, it’s finished and then somebody else comes on. You’re going to see artists on the stage pretty much the whole show. We have done a lot of creation with our bodies. There are acrobatic and dance sequences and also some theater and comic aspects.”
Herley will do her share in the air.
Mastering the ropes
She developed interests in acrobatics, gymnastics, swimming and music as a youngster. As Herley grew older, she was encouraged to pursue an artistic and athletic career; she completed three years of training at the National Circus School in Montreal in 2012. And while Herley knows handstands, swing trapeze and other circus favorites, the aerialist said working the vertical ropes is her specialty.
Risk is always in play when performers work high off the stage. On June 30, Sarah Guyard-Guillot of Cirque du Soleil’s “KA” production died after a 50-foot fall during a show in Las Vegas.
Herley said she could not comment on the accident. She could talk about her personal preparation.
“I really am old-fashioned since I believe the stronger you are, it means the safer you are,” she said. “I think it’s very important, especially as an aerialist in the air, you have to be very strong and solid not only in your muscles but your cardio as well. You have to be very smart in your training, even on days when you are tired and you don’t want to climb. You have to force it because that is what’s going to make you stronger.”
Herley likes to move up and down the thick rope. The height of the theater will determine how high she will go.
“Right now, the standard height of a rope is 32 feet,” she said. “In most theaters, I’m about 26 feet up.
“When I’m on my ropes, and I’ve been on ropes higher, I feel very safe,” Herley added. “During a show with the school, I think I was about 50 feet up on a rope and I was OK with that because I feel safe, I know what I’m doing on my ropes.”
Some heights take a little while to get used to. But those long ropes only come out for special events.
“When I did the opening ceremonies for the [Winter] Olympic Games in Vancouver [in 2010], we were about 40 meters high, about 120 feet, and I was in a harness. After a month of training, I was comfortable with it. But at the beginning, I remember it made my heart beat pretty fast.”
Herley would prefer to start other hearts beating. She wants an excited audience.
“An artist desires to give back to the world,” she said. “This is something you can do as a performer, as a circus artist, every day. You give yourself to the world, to the public. It’s hard to describe the sensation that goes to your heart.”
Proctors’ CEO Philip Morris described advance ticket sales as “pretty modest” but said all previous Cirque Éloize shows at Proctors — the company performed at Proctors six times between 2002 to 2009 — have been well received.
“We’re hopeful people are going to hear how good it is and decide they want to come,” Morris said. “It’s a summer decision and I think a lot of summer decisions are last-minute. We’re out there talking and pushing.”
Morris added that classes for “The Cirque Experience” at Proctors’ school of the performing arts are filling up. The first session, for children between the ages of 12 and 14, begins Monday.
“Cirkopolis” is full of physical stories, but Herley said people should be watching for a more subliminal visual.
“At first, we’re all anonymous,” she said. “As it goes on, you will see more individuality appear. It reminds me of the movie ‘Pleasantville,’ which is black and white and certain people slowly turn to color. Some of the people are so shocked to be in color, they put on black and white make-up.”
Herley has been having a pleasant time living in Montreal.
“I think I will always stay here,” she said. “It’s one of the leading cities not just for art, but for circus as well. Theater, art and music are really my passions; it’s incredible living here. That’s why I love it so much.”