Long live the King

Long live the King

An acrobat in Cirque du Soleil's tribute to Michael Jackson tells Chris Lau about this salute to the star


Michael Jackson The Immortal_L
Photo: Cirque de Soleil
It's been four years since Michael Joseph Jackson, the King of Pop, left us.

The shining star dedicated his life to music, producing memorable tracks that will pass down through the generations. He excelled at all dance styles, and invented some of his own - his moonwalk is one of the most frequently imitated, seldom perfected dance moves ever known.

Now Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian-based circus troupe, is paying tribute through their show, Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour, playing at AsiaWorld-Expo from Friday to next Sunday.

The show, which started touring in 2011, was written and directed by James King, who started as a dancer, performing on Jackson's Dangerous World Tour in 1992.

"It is going to be massive show," says Harvey Donnelly, 22, one of the show's acrobats. "You can expect all of the iconic Michael Jackson moves throughout the show."

Jackson was probably most famous for his upbeat songs. Donnelly says one of his favourite segments is based on Dancing Machine. Recorded in 1973 during The Jackson 5 era - which started in the mid-1960s - the song drops thumping beats that invite dancers to dish out their robotic moves.

"You have dancers who are acting like robots, and you have guys like myself who are flying in the air on flying machines," Donnelly says. Lights and smoke effects add to the already electric atmosphere, which Donnelly describes as "so powerful".

Donnelly says: "I love the entry to that because it's so powerful."

But as well as these uptempo tracks, the pop legend often displayed his sensitive side, writing myriad soft, heart-melting ballads over the years.

For I Just Can't Stop Loving You, the circus folks wrote a love story to go with the song. A couple strapped with wires will perform a dance routine suspended in the air.

The international production house loves to engage with local audiences by adopting the local language and cultural references, so don't be surprised when you hear some familiar Cantonese words. Five cast members, who play Jackson's diehard fans, will cause belly laughs with their extraordinary language skills, and impromptu script. "They react to the audience differently as the audience react to them," Donnelly says.

The show, and its young cast, aged 19 to 30, offer those who want to reminisce about Jackson's brightest moments a chance to do so in an unconventional way. All of the show's tracks are carefully adapted by Kevin Antunes, who has worked with Britney Spears, New Kids on the Block and 'N Sync, among others.

On the dance side, more than 10 choreographers designed special routines for every song, and Donnelly loves how dancers and acrobats work together.

"At the beginning, we thought dancers would do the dancing and the acrobats were brought in to do the acrobatics," he says. "But as we went along the journey, what we found was the dancers had to learn to do some acrobatics and flying, and the acrobats had to learn to dance. So, it became far more of a group than two sides."

All the hard work that goes into shows such as this made the sad news of a death in the circus even harder to take. Last month, French acrobat Sarah Guillot-Guyard fell about 27 metres in Las Vegas - the first onstage tragedy in Cirque du Soleil's 29 years.

"It affects us because we're a family," Donnelly whispers.

But the trampolinist-turned-acrobat says times like this teach the group how to stick together and move forward as a team.

"We've become stronger like that," he says. "With these things, we help each other. We stand by each other - and this is exactly what we're doing now."

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