When just a few centimetres can be the difference between circus gold and a broken neck, the stakes are high. As Cirque du Soleil performer Lee Brearley tells Garrett Bithell in the lead-up to the opening of Ovo in Sydney, risk is the name of the game.
When Cirque du Soleil’s Ovo rolls into town, it’s more than just a circus. In fact, it’s a global microcosm, with its own mini-economy. Approximately 170 people travel with the tour, and over 150 locals are hired at each stop. The 123-strong cast and crew represent 22 nationalities, including Argentina, Belarus, Bulgaria, Israel, Kazakhstan, Poland and Tajikistan. The Ovo village itself takes eight days to set up and three days to deconstruct, including the famous Grand Chapiteau, which stands 66 feet high, is 167 feet in diameter, and is supported by four 80-feet masts. The canvas for the tent and its 11 tunnels weigh 5227.3 kilograms. The kitchen, at the heart of the village, serves between 200 and 250 meals per day, six days a week, and is also the meeting place for cast and crew alike.
Opening at the Entertainment Quarter on Thursday, Ovo – meaning ‘egg’ in Portuguese – is a headlong rush into a colourful ecosystem teaming with life – where insects work, crawl, flutter, fight and look for love in a non-stop riot of energy and movement. Lee Brearley, who has been with Cirque du Soleil since 2002, performs some of the most awe-inspiring and technically difficult parts of Ovo, including the Wall finale, which features 20 artists running, jumping and walking across – and straight up – an eight-metre wall without artificial support. Power track and trampolines give them the speed, lift and momentum to take flight, and their incredible ability, physical strength and group coordination take care of the rest.
“Some of the most impressive-looking tricks are actually just pure trampoline technique and are really simple,” Brearley tells SX. “But then some very difficult tricks look really simple – like when we’re exiting the Wall part, because we’re jumping from the wall onto the trampoline at a certain angle, when we hit the trampoline we have to quickly change angles to exit correctly. That’s one of the hardest techniques but no one gets it.”
Even though Brearley is highly-trained, a steely combination of risk and pure faith often comes into play. “There’s one part when a partner and I run right to the top of the wall off our backs, and then have to jump mid-air and do an inverted push dive,” he says. Because we’re jumping 16 or 17 feet into the air, if we jump a little too far we’re going to land with our head on the stage and body on the trampoline, which is literally a broken neck. And every now and then we do jump a little too far and your heart beats a little strangely!”
Brearley also plays the role of ‘Creatura’, a part-slinky, part-insect twisty knot of stretchy limbs in constant motion. “It looks like a big air-conditioning unit,” he laughs. “You do have some vision, but it’s mainly just for directional purposes, and a lot of times when you’re doing a trick, the window that’s inside the costume will actually close up because it’s like a concertina. So there is the occasional fear of falling off the stage, or facing the wrong way and doing your act to the back to the tent.”
Brearley started trampolining at the age of eight after watching it at his local rec centre in Eccles, England. Before he joined Cirque du Soleil, he competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and finished sixth in the men’s category. He was actually the first man in Great Britain to compete at the Olympics in trampolining. While he is more than happy with his decision to run away with circus, he does concede there are sacrifices.
“I don’t have relationships,” he says. “I did go through a phase at one point where I was like, ‘oh I want a house and washing machine and a dog and boyfriend’. But I’m travelling the world, seeing these amazing places, meeting new people – so for me normal life will come after this. I’m going to do this crazy thing that I can’t do forever, because my body won’t hold out. So unless a miracle happens and the right person comes along in the show, it’s single life for now!”
Cirque Du Soleil: Ovo is at the Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, September 13 – November 4. Bookings at www.cirquedusoleil.com/ovo.