Cirque Du Soleil's LA Comeback (Or, How To Train As A Circus Performer, Even In A Pandemic)
This spring, Cirque du Soleil began a recurring residency with L.A. Live that will include annual stops at the Microsoft Theater for the next five years. The first of those Cirque shows to land in Los Angeles is a revamped version of Cirque'sOvo.
The characters in Ovo are anthropomorphized insects. The show follows the insects' fascination with a large egg (“ovo” is the Portuguese word for “egg”), all the while exploring life cycles and love. Ovo emphasizes the bright colors of real insects, utilizing performers ranging from acrobats to contortionists.
The show makes use of an international crew, with members representing 17 different nationalities.
One of those performers, Gianfranco Di Sanzo, started out as a juggling street artist in Uruguay. He practiced while traveling around the world, including to the United States, but eventually he moved into aerial acrobatics.
Di Sanzo at one point found himself in Brazil without a coach, so he began watching videos on YouTube and training with a friend. This new discipline ultimately brought him to the attention of Cirque, which hired him in 2017.
Now he works in human trapeze as an aerial cradle performer, tossing female partners at a height of 30 feet from the ground below — and doing it across 20 feet of open air, according to Di Sanzo. He said that he finds the work to be a big, interesting challenge. In Ovo, he portrays a large scarab.
Training For The Circus In A Pandemic
Cirque du Soleil’s experience relies on live, in-person spectacle — which meant the pandemic had a particularly outsized effect on their shows. The team is excited to be back after two years, the longest pause in the show’s existence.
Like so many performers, Di Sanzo struggled when COVID-19 took that work away from him. He found himself becoming depressed.
“To be honest, the first year was really hard,” Di Sanzo said. He faced frustrations watching gyms open then close again, unsure of the path forward.
So he brought the work home — Di Sanzo and his partner built a 15-foot-high aerial apparatus next to their house, soldering it together themselves. That gave them the ability to hone their skills while away from the venues where they usually perform. Di Sanzo also conducted his weight training out in the street.
Di Sanzo's teammate John Peter Añon, the assistant head of sound, also longed for live shows during the performance shutdown.
“This pandemic was really rough, to be away from what I love so much,” Añon said. He’s originally from Venezuela and moved to North America to pursue this career. He expressed a mixture of excitement and hesitation — while he’s happy to return to entertaining live audiences, the work can be stressful with its repetition day after day, he said.
“People will have bad days, but those good days are more than the bad days,” Añon said.
Creating The Sound Of Ovo
Ovo has a Brazilian-themed sound, according to Añon, with elements of samba — that includes seven musicians working on the show, including several Brazilians. Speakers are placed around the audience to envelop them in the audio textures created by the musicians and sound designers.
Añon got his start studying show production in college — a shift from his original plan, which was to become a nurse.
“Growing up, I’d always been into rock and roll and played in bands,” Añon said.
But after taking some jazz classes as a minor, he threw himself into pursuing the world of live music shows. He got his first internship working on the Warped Tour, then began to move from one tour to another. Añon went from traveling between tour stops by bus to running shows on a cruise ship and even working for Disney On Ice, before finding his way to Cirque du Soleil in 2018.
“I always wanted something bigger, and then better — I’ve been shooting for the stars,” Añon said. “I found here that they really push you, give you the tools necessary, and all the training necessary just to evolve into a better technician.”
Now he’s training to move from sound into becoming an automation tech operator, which means he’ll be responsible for helping all those acrobats fly. The training and growth Cirque offers is what brought him back after multiple pandemic shutdowns.
“It’s not just the music that I love, it’s not just sound — it’s just show business,” Añon said. “Going from city to city, starting with nothing — with an empty arena, with an empty theater, with an empty parking lot. And putting something up that wasn’t there before.”
For those who want to follow in his footsteps, either in sound or live show production, Añon encourages people to volunteer or do internships.
“My first gigs, they were all internships and they were all volunteer,” Añon said. “I have learned more from people than I have from my school. I’ve had good mentors along the way.”
His other secret to success: when you don’t know something, tell people you don’t know, he advised, adding that you should keep your head down and stay humble.
“People would rather work with somebody that knows what they’re doing but is humble, rather than a know-it-all and is just really hard to work with,” Añon said.
What Makes Performing Ovo In Los Angeles Special
One of the challenges — and advantages — of being based in a big city such as Los Angeles is the sheer number and variety of entertainment options, Añon said.
On the one hand, it’s provided more opportunities to go out and see shows he wouldn’t be able to access as easily in many other places. But it also means more competition.
“It makes me try harder than I have before, just because there’s other shows that people can go to, that people can spend their money on,” said Añon, noting how hard it can be to stand out from the crowd. Still, he seemed confident that Ovo gives audiences their money’s worth.
He’s made friends with people from other shows and said he loves having them come see what he does.
“I want to show off my show. I want to say, ‘Wasn’t that cool? Don’t you wish you were a part of this thing that we’re doing here?’” Añon said.
“Our act, it’s impressive — you will have tension, and you will get into it,” Di Sanzo said. “This act is more poetic, and you will feel different, there is more acrobatic stuff — you get tense, and then you go ‘Ohhh, it’s nice, it’s safe.’”