The blue-and-yellow striped Cirque du Soleil tent has risen along the waterfront at the Seaport District Marine Industrial Park, and performers are loosening up for the opening night of “Amaluna.”
Fifty performers will take the stage tonight and every night (except Mondays) until July 6, performing awe-inspiring physical feats that give Cirque du Soleil its international reputation.
This week, I stopped by the Cirque “artistic tent” to chat with the artists about the nutrition and fitness secrets that allow them to master such physically intimidating acts night after night. You’d be surprised to discover that beyond practicing their routines, their favorite ways to stay fit are just as typical as everyone else’s.
Yohanne Renne, who is the head coach, was a Cirque performer himself for eight years before becoming a coach a year ago. Renne told me he likes to take a hands-off approach with training the artists since most of them were already professional athletes, gymnasts, or performers before they joined Cirque. (It’s not like your high school gym coach running drills under the tent.) Staying active and maintaining a healthy eating regimen is a regular part of their daily lives, so Renne said the artists are pretty autonomous.
This week, performers have been living in Boston in hotels and apartments, but quite a few have been enjoying riding their folding bikes to work, a typical routine for many of the artists, according to Lindsey Bruck-Ayotte, the captain of the Amazons (the team of women who tackle a synchronized routine on the uneven bars). A former NCAA gymnast at University of Michigan, and the former assistant coach of the University of New Hampshire gynmastics team, Bruck-Ayotte said it’s pretty second nature to stay healthy and active.
“Since we do the uneven bars, we obviously work our upper body, but during the time off we try to stay up with our cardio,” said Bruck-Ayotte. “We’re all very active people, so we like to get outdoors, go running, hiking, or biking, and really stay active. Most of us have gymnastics backgrounds, so we’re brought up eating healthy and watching what we eat. We’ll of course splurge if we want something, but we are all pretty healthy eaters anyway.”
Bruck-Ayotte said she “eats like a mouse” with several small meals throughout the day, but everyone has their own routines.
Aaron Charbonneau, a 28-year-old from Ontario, Canada, prefers rollerblading as a great cardio option to keep his legs “happy” for his routine that involves a burst of power from the quadriceps. A former cheerleader who is going into his fourth year at Cirque, Charbonneau is a teeterboard performer (basically a see-saw on steroids).
“I know it’s a bit retro, but it only takes me about a half an hour to rollerblade here every day from the hotel, so there’s half my cardio right there on my way to work,” said Charbonneau, who focuses on upper body strength training otherwise. “I do a lot of upper body training because jumping itself is a lot of leg training. Every time you jump, you’re doing a resistance into the board to push up, and then pushing down and doing a press, so you’re doing a lot of leg training just doing the act. So generally I stay away from doing a lot of legs.”
On the day of the performance, artists will simply run their routines to stay loose. The performers stretch for 20 minutes before and after every act to recover and prevent injury, but occassionally they also do circuit training. Despite all the energy spent during the show, they are still wired.
“We have so much energy after the show, and we’re so awake, and often it’s 10 or 11:30 at night, but we’ll still stay here and train if we want to,” said Bruck-Ayotte. “We are really night owls now.”
Cirque also has a staff of physical therapists, a yoga instructor, and nutritionists on call, as well as a kitchen staff that cook anything the artists might want. This helps them to have easy access to nutritious options when they’re constantly away from home. Charbonneau even carries his own hot plate and skillet when he travels, just to make sure he can cook eggs every morning.
“As long as I can make eggs, I’m happy,” he said. Charbonneau tries to eat 3,000 calories a day in four small meals, but it’s important to maintain a balance. His nutrition plan is pretty simple. “I eat when I’m hungry, and I don’t when I’m not. It’s just important that I make sure I eat enough calories in a day to sustain what I’m doing.”
Since most acts only last five or six minutes, artists actually burn most of their calories during the training days. They might bike, roller blade, or walk to work, then work out at the training tent, and then practice their routines. After all of that, performers might take up an additional activity, such as hot yoga or pilates at a local gym, to round out the day.
I’m excited to see how their hard work has paid off this season. See you at the show!