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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Inside the circus with Cirque du Soleil’s Meghan Miller

Cirque du Soleil, the Quebec-based theater company that combines circus arts with dance, acrobatics, storytelling and wildly imaginative artistic design, has traveled all over the world for over 25 years. Now, Quidam, one of Cirque’s 22 unique productions, will perform eight shows from May 11 to 15 at Sacramento’s Arco Arena.

MUSE spoke with Meghan Miller, a Santa Cruz, Calif., native and Cornell University graduate who has performed Quidam’s aerial hoops act for the past six years, about her experiences as part of one of the world’s biggest shows.

MUSE: What’s your athletic background and how did you get involved with Cirque du Soleil?

Meghan Miller: I was a gymnast from [the age of] six years old. I competed in gymnastics all the way through college, and I’ve also done competitive cheerleading. I’m also a yoga teacher. I was at the end of college and applying to grad schools and was all set to go to grad school, but I decided to apply to the circus as well because I’d always had that in the back of my mind, that it was really cool and I at least wanted to give it a shot. I heard back from them right away, so I decided I needed to try this now while I still have the opportunity. When you apply you have to submit a video of your athletics so I submitted a video of my skills and what I could do. Then I went to a training program in Montreal for four months. It’s general training; you do not just circus arts but also clowning and dance and acting and singing and the whole performing arts program. There’s no guarantee of a contract when you’re there. At the end of that I finally was able to get a contract and start with the show.

Can you describe your act?

I’m part of a women’s trio act. There are three of us on the aerial hoops, which are large metal hoops in the air. We spin and swing and do a lot of synchronized work. The characters are women who have had their hearts broken but they’re coming back strong. I think it’s probably easier now than when I first started, from muscle memory. You just get used to it and anything you repeat thousands of times becomes easier. We have to really maintain our bodies and make sure we stay in shape and healthy because it is demanding and [we perform] anywhere from 8 to 10 shows per week. We have to stay on top of things and stay awake and aware. When you perform it thousands of times it gets difficult because you can very easily lose attention because it becomes so automatic. I think the biggest challenge is probably to stay present and aware of what you’re doing and not go on autopilot.

What’s it like to interact with your fellow performers?

It’s great. Over the years we’ve had a lot of different people perform the act. I’ve worked with a lot of different girls from different countries. The team that I’m working with right now, we’re very supportive of each other. There are four of us so we always have a girl who’s rotated out to rest for one show. We have to work very hard as a team because if one of us is doing her own thing we lose the whole essence of the act because you lose the synchronization. We have to be very close and help each other out a lot.

What do your costume and makeup look like, and how do they affect your performance?

We have a big red patch in the center of our chest that represents the broken heart and red lines going down all of our limbs which is like bleeding [from] our veins. Our makeup is kind of dark. It’s got red lines down our faces representing tears and also blood, the suffering we’ve been through. But the act itself is very passionate and strong so I think it kind of shows strength overcoming that suffering. I actually really enjoy the time that we have to take every day to do our makeup. When I first started with the company I was totally overwhelmed. We have to take a class to learn how to put on our own makeup, and originally it took me three hours to get through the makeup design, and I was thinking ‘Oh, my God, this is going to be so long every day.’ But now I’ve got it down to about an hour. It’s a good time to sit and listen to your music and prepare yourself mentally and I really value that time now. Putting on your makeup puts you into your character.

What’s it like traveling around the world performing Quidam?

It’s both exciting and tiring. It’s very exciting, because a lot of the places I’ve had the opportunity to travel to I don’t know that I would have gotten to on my own dime or my own itinerary. But it’s pretty exhausting to live out of a suitcase. It’s also not easy because we travel and live and work and socialize with the same people all the time, so we really have to have people skills to get along and keep our group healthy and happy.

What do you enjoy most about being part of Quidam?

I do really enjoy the community of people that perform together. We all deal with a lot of the same challenges and support each other through them. It’s also just a wonderful energy to feel the audience reacting to what we’re showing them every night.

For more information about Meghan Miller and Quidam, go to meghanemiller.com and cirquedusoleil.com.

ROBIN MIGDOL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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