We talk to Jimmy Ibarra of Cirque de Soleil's Kooza and find out what goes on behind the scenes and when the audience isn't looking

We talk to Jimmy Ibarra of Cirque de Soleil's Kooza and find out what goes on behind the scenes and when the audience isn't looking

We take you behind the scenes of Canada’s world-famous circus show

Cirque de Soleil makes a triumphant return to Hong Kong, almost six years since its last performance in the city. This time, it’s Kooza – the daredevil production – that has set up its signature blue and yellow big top tent at Hong Kong Central Harbourfront space.

A startling contrast against the hazy, grey skyline, the circus tent isn’t easy to miss. But although the main stage is where the performers dazzle the audience, the real magic happens in a smaller, separate tent.

As we step inside it, an acrobat walks on a balancing beam, practising summersaults in the air; another practises her gymnastics moves on a trampoline, while the in-house physiotherapist helps one of the contortionists stretch his leg.

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Resting on one of the sofas, dressed in blue jeans and a jumper, is performer, Jimmy Ibarra. Little do we know that his contraption of choice is the internationally-revered Wheel of Death; and during every show, audiences get to learn why it is named just that. The act showcases Ibarra performing death-defying stunts on a turning wheel, while it is being thrust into the air.

Heather Ng (below left) met Jimmy Ibarra to discuss the Wheel of Death.
Photo: Rhea Mogul/SCMP

But bravery and adrenaline is in Ibarra’s blood. After all, he hails from a family of Columbian trapeze artists.

“I started performing stunts when I was 14,” said Ibarra. “I have been doing this for 23 years now, and it took a lot of hard work to get to this level .”

Ibarra goes through an intense training programme that consists of running and weightlifting, and he very carefully watches he eats.

Although he feels nervous before going on stage, he says that his “fears just fade away” once he’s in front of the audience.

“At the end of the day, the adrenaline rush that I get when I perform beats all the risks that I take every day,” said Ibarra. “It’s the best feeling to see the audience happy and amazed after my performance.”

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As we make our way through the tent, some of the cast and crew gather in the middle for a mandatory safety course. An expert was flown in to show what could go wrong during a high-risk show, like Kooza, and how to react to and deal with potential accidents and injuries such as breaking a leg. “We take the safety of our performers very seriously,” said Frederic Lapierre, the show’s spokesman.

As Lapierre walks us through the tent, he points out that the wigs are custom made to fit each individual’s head and that the performers go through a two-week training in Montreal, where they learn how to do their own make-up for the show.

“It takes me a very long 40 minutes to apply my make up,” said Ibarra, with an expression that suggests that this isn’t his favourite part of performing.

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“All our make-up is very intricate and has a lot of detail,” he added.

And if any repairs or changes need to take place, the costume department uses their 3D printer to get the job done.

More than 20 million people across the world have watched this multi-award-winning production. And after seeing how much work is put into their shows, the company’s success comes as no surprise.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Under the big top tent


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