We had the chance to chat with Artistic Director, Mark Shaub, and Adagio artist Kelly McDonald of the Cirque du Soleil’s LUZIA show arriving in Seattle on March 30th (get your tickets soon!). LUZIA takes you to imaginary Mexico, like in a waking dream, where light quenches the spirit and the rain soothes the soul. Freely inspired by Mexico, LUZIA is a poetic and acrobatic ode to the rich, vibrant culture of a country whose wealth stems from an extraordinary mix of influences and creative collisions.
Seattleite: I hear you’re from Seattle and were on the gymnastics team at the University of Washington. How did you get into the world of acrobatics?
Kelly McDonald: I went to Roosevelt High School and competed on the gymnastics team at UW. Go Dawgs! I finished eligibility after four years and took an extra year to study abroad afterward. When I got back, I heard about an opportunity to try out for a show in Vegas. I went down to Vegas thinking it would be fun and I got the job! I thought, I’ll just go for a year before I get a “real job.”
Now, being in a circus is my real job. It’s amazing that I can use the skills I’d been training my whole life for in my job.
S: How was the transition?
Kelly: It’s been a great transition from competing according to all the rules, codes, being “in the box” and expanding into a new world of performing and acrobatics. I love working with partners and working with a team from so many different backgrounds. Performing has opened up a new world for me where I continue to expand and challenge what I do.
S: How did you get involved with Cirque du Soleil and what is your current role?
Kelly: In LUZIA, Adagio is my main act. I am considered the flyer and I work with three male performers that have a background in acrobatic sports. The feel of LUZIA is between a dream and reality. It’s basically a poetic and beautiful version of three guys throwing me around. I do acrobatic tricks and the transitions that are different than what you’ve seen before. My performance has more emotion with high level of technical skill.
S: How do you feel about performing in your hometown?
There are more opportunities for work outside of Seattle, but I love Seattle. All my friends and family are still here. I’m excited to get to perform and be a part of this show. I get to show my teachers, coaches, family and friends what I’m doing now. It’s a collision of my two passions. I’m so proud to be a part of it.
People who helped me get to where I am today can see what I’m doing now.
S: What is your favorite part of being a part of the Cirque du Soleil production?
The people I get to perform and practice with every day is my favorite part. The performers are from 15 different countries and if you include all staff, there are individuals from 25 different countries.I get to learn different languages and about different cultures.
I continue to be impressed and amazed by my friends and coworkers. I am constantly learning and being inspired to continue pushing myself both on stage and off stage.
Seattleite: What does being the Artistic Director entail?
Mark Shaub: My main responsibility is to look after the well-being of the show and what goes on onstage. With eight to ten shows per week, it’s important to keep the show from drifting off from what was originally created and to keep it alive.
I serve as an outside eye that watches the show and works on improving the show to make it the best it can possibly be. Not to make big changes, but to find little things to do to make some things a little bit better. It’s subtle, but it makes a difference.
Sometimes, as a show goes on, it can get better and better.
S: You worked professionally for 20 years as a dancer. What is it like on the other side as a director now?
It’s always difficult to leave a performing career: it’s exciting, rewarding and fulfilling. Performing for a live audience is a difficult act to follow. I feel so lucky that it has been a nice transition for me. This is the fourth Cirque du Soleil show I’ve worked on since I joined in 2005.
I feel pretty fortunate to transition into something working closely with the performers and the show. I often sit in the audience so I can see what’s important and what to work on, tune up, etc.
S: What are some of your favorite parts of the Luzia show?
I often get asked this question and it’s a hard one to answer. I’ll take the diplomatic route and say I like them all the same.
I really do love the show. It holds together really well as an entire experience and takes the audience on a dreamlike trip. I really have to and must work with every part of the show with the show to make the same experience and the same feeling. The main point is that in LUZIA, there’s a lot of different moods and atmospheres and it can reach out to everybody that’s in the audience.
S: The show travels all around the country. Does the show change with the location?
With going to many communities with a range of cultures, we realize that people react in subtly different ways. Some communities may react more to the humor or the music or overall effect or emotions. We just have to be open to it and respond as performers and directors.
Photos by Cirque du Soleil.