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Delphine, Cirque du Soleil performer

Paul Sculpher meets a lead performer in Love, a show presented by Cirque du Soleil and themed around the legacy of the Beatles

This month, I travelled to the legendary Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to meet with Delphine Gaillard, a lead performer in the Cirque du Soleil show Love. The show features lots of classic Beatles tunes as well as with some you might not recognise so easily. It’s an enormously challenging role for Delphine, but one that she relishes.

Gambling: Hi Delphine, can you tell us how you got into this line of work?

Delphine: When I was a little girl I wasn’t really interested in dancing, although my mother wanted me to get involved. However, around the age of eight I became interested in the local circus school in Verdun, France, which is my hometown. I joined up and was training as a contortionist until I was about 13, when I became interested in the trapeze skills. From then I was training for this with pull-ups and so on.

Wow, I’m not sure I could even do one pull-up now!

Well, many years of hard training followed and when I was 17 I went to Paris to start working as a professional aerial and trapeze artist. Eventually, when I was about 25, I heard that the Cirque du Soleil was hiring, and I travelled to Montreal, Canada, to audition for them. I spent some time working on their special events before they began to set up a new production show set around the music of the Beatles.

And how does that process work?

Each show has a very long ‘creation’ process. For the Love show this meant nine months of preparation. This involves everything from the basic story, costumes and sets as well as the performers blocking in all of their moves and routines. For this show, the old ‘Siegfried and Roy’ theatre – which was unused after the accident [where one of the tigers attacked Roy and left him in a critical condition] was completely gutted and rebuilt specifically for this show. Eventually we were able to move into the Mirage theatre and finalise the show before opening in June 2006. The creation process as a whole cost over $150 million.

That’s a serious investment. How many people are involved?

We have about 65 performers and 120 crew and management staff involved in each show. The show plays twice each night, and five nights per week – we get Tuesday and Wednesday off. With a couple of other gaps in the schedule this means we have 497 shows per year.

I understand there are 2,013 seats in the theatre – given that it’s pretty full every show I can start seeing how that big creation spend is justified. How much training do you have to do on an ongoing basis?

The shows themselves keep us all pretty fit, but in some cases – mine particularly – the work we do is not very balanced. For example, my work in this show is entirely aerial and relying on my arms, so I have to train my legs doing various exercises to compensate.

And what exactly is your role in the show all about?

I play Julia, John Lennon’s mother, who also stands within the piece as a representation of motherhood in general. My work is all aerial, so I’m suspended from the grid at the top of the theatre and ‘fly’ above the stage during several parts of the performance. I’m always either at the top of the building or down in the basement! My role is very unusual for a Cirque du Soleil show as it’s based specifically on a real person, while most of the characters are either abstract representations of imaginary people or entirely fantastical creatures.

And do the cast members back up each other’s roles?

Within the company as whole, yes, most cast members are able to assume another role in case of injury or sickness, so they can rotate as required. My skill set is much more specific however – even the highly trained dancers and artistes within the company generally wouldn’t be able to step straight into my role. Even for the main team, it takes a pre-trained Cirque performer about two months to be ready to take on a specific role within a show as demanding as this one.

Do you all tend to stick together outside of work?

Well, yes, our schedules help that to happen. When you finish at 2am and all have the same days off it tends to help define your social life. The good thing is that in Vegas there are always lively places to go, at any time of the day or night. It’s kind of like a big family, and although there are over 20 different nationalities in just this one show, we do tend to stick together. We might all head round to someone house at 2.30am for a barbecue or a few crepes.

Crepes at 2.30am – if I didn’t already know you were French, I think I’d know now. What kind of places do you hang out in Vegas? Lots of the people I’ve interviewed tend to avoid the Strip outside of work.

Not when there’s so much great shopping to be done! We go to all kinds of places; a couple of our favourites are Firefly, a really relaxed Tapas spot near the Hard Rock casino and Brio, down at Town Square.

And how did you find moving to Las Vegas?

I’d been here on vacation before and never thought I’d want to live here. Once I arrived though, I changed my mind; it’s a wonderful place to work in a trade like mine, especially being open all night to relax after the shows. It’s like another planet here, although if I didn’t do this job I’m not so sure I’d like it so much.

And do you gamble at all?

No, I don’t even know how! I was in a gas station the other day and they even had slots in the toilet cubicles. This place is crazy.

Do you get to see the other Cirque shows in town? [There are currently seven in Las Vegas, including ‘O’ at Bellagio, Zumanity, The Sensual Side of Cirque du Soleil at New York New York, Ka at MGM Grand and the newest attraction – Viva Elvis at Aria Resort.]

Yes, I’ve seen them all. Occasionally people transfer between shows if the roles suit them or if they want a change of scene.

Finally, have you had a chance to meet anyone famous through the show?

Absolutely, on the opening night of Love (30 June 2006) and on the first anniversary of the show we met the Beatles themselves. Paul and Ringo, plus Paul and George’s wives Yoko and Olivia came to see the show with their families. Love is a partnership with the Beatles’ corporation, Apple, so everything about the show is approved by the band members and wives. As you can imagine it was amazing to meet the inspiration behind the performance.

With that, it was time to take in the show – and what a show! It’s an amazing spectacle, with so much happening it can be difficult to know where to look. There’s no doubt where to look when Delphine’s performing however, she truly is a unique talent. Seeing her soaring 30 feet or more over the main stage with no safety harness or net – just holding onto loops on the ropes while still moving with the greatest of grace – you get an idea of what happens when a unique talent combines with many years of specialised training. Astounding. A great show and a privilege to meet someone so talented and driven who forms a key part of it.

As a postscript, one or two people might find the references to British culture of the time a little clichéd – you’ll see plenty of bobbies’ helmets and a red phone box – but this is the USA after all. Having said that, while I was interviewing Delphine in the rest area (actually Siegfried and Roy’s old apartment) I did notice one of the fearsomely muscular and heavily tattooed male cast members with a cup of tea and a sandwich. What could be more British than that?


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