The people behind the artists at Cirque du Soleil

Trapeze artist Marie-Christine Fournier.
Trapeze artist Marie-Christine Fournier. / ÑITO SALAS
  • A 'half-malagueño' musician in charge of the music, a Japanese who learned Spanish in Malaga, a couple who share their art and their lives. The Totem stars tell us their individual stories

A small passageway connects the two worlds: the fantasy one, where everything is possible, and the real one, where the hard work takes place to achieve it. The first, the Grand Chapiteau, comes to life in the evening when hundreds of people take to their seats, as they recently did for the first time in ten years in Malaga. In the second, however, the artists' marquee, the activity starts much earlier. That is where the efforts and the lives of the stars of Totem, the Cirque du Soleil's latest show, which will continue in the fairground in Malaga until 1 July, cross over.

As we go in, musical director Alejandro Romero is watching skaters Denise García and Massimo Medini as they rehearse. They have extended their number and he wants to see it so he can adjust the music accordingly. Meanwhile, Marie-Christine Fournier, who is from Canada, starts the warm-up which in a few hours will enable her to perform on the trapeze, and to one side Umihiko Miya, from Japan, coats his hands with the characteristic white powder the athletes use to exercise on the barre. These are five of the 46 artists from this Cirque du Soleil production, and each has a story to tell.

Alejandro Romero Director musical

An Andalusian managing the sound for 'Totem'

Alejandro was born in Seville but his mother is from Malaga so he feels a bit like a host, recommending restaurants and museums to visit. “I was even able to drive here!” he says, which for him is a rarity. In eight years he has visited 52 cities with the Cirque du Soleil, first as a musician and then as musical director. It is what he wanted. Since being invited to Saltimbanco in 2004 he fell for “the magic” of the circus world and sent his CV to the Canadian company. He had years of experience as a producer, arranger and pianist for artists like Pablo Alborán, Vanesa Martín, India Martínez, Argentina and David de María. He made his debut at Wembley Arena in London in 2010, precisely with Saltimbanco.

Now his 'office' has views from a height the acrobats would love, and that is where he controls all the sound for Totem. Opposite, three screens show enlarged images of the artists. He needs to see them close-up because there is a non-verbal communication between them that marks the timing. The girl on the trapeze, for example, moves her fingers before jumping to indicate that she is ready, “and the music starts at just the right moment”. That is one of the tricks of Cirque du Soleil: the synchronised soundtrack highlights the risks involved in the performances.

Denise García and Massimo Medini Skaters

“I feel safer in a caravan than in an apartment”

Her parents were circus artists. This couple fell in love in a circus and now travel around the world with their 12-year-old daughter and the Cirque du Soleil. “We don't miss a more normal life, because we don't know what that's like,” they say.

Massimo Medini, who is Italian, and Denise García, from Spain, perform an exciting love story on skates. “And who better than with your partner!”, says Denise, who was born in Niebla (Huelva) but grew up under marquees all over the world. “We must have done it 3,000 times by now but there is always a feeling between us that gives us goosebumps,” says Massimo.

After a nomadic life, they say they have bought their first apartment in Benidorm, where many circus artists like to live. “That's our family,” they say. “It's the first time we have had walls, but I feel safer in a caravan. A house makes me feel a bit afraid,” says Denise. “Bad people never go to the caravans,” jokes her husband. Their 12-year-old daughter speaks four languages, does contortionism and is about to perform her very own show. The advantages of being a circus child.

Marie-Christine Fournier Trapeze

“This life isn't for everyone, but it's wonderful”

Cirque du Soleil signed her up when she was training at a circus school in Canada. They offered her a trial contract with tuition in their own school. That was ten years ago. Since then, Marie-Christine has taken the audience's breath away when she performs on the trapeze. “I'm a rare object,” she jokes.

She used to do gymnastics and discovered that she enjoyed the acrobatic aspect as much as competing in front of spectators.

She admits that “this life isn't for everyone”. She is far from her loved ones and never spends more than two months in one place. That's why the performers forge close bonds between themselves.

“We travel together, work together, live together, have breakfast together. It's not just when we're performing the show,” she says. Nor is it all work. In the summer, such as in Malaga now, the camp kitchen has an outside terrace and a small pool, to make their stay as comfortable as possible. “But being in the circus is wonderful, you discover so many cultures and countries,” she says. In fact, she still doesn't know where she will settle when they leave the circus. “I have an open mind,” she says. Malaga? “Maybe so”.

Umihiko Miya Acrobat

The Japanese with a Panama accent who wants to be an actor

“I didn't expect to come back to Malaga this way,” says Umi, as everyone calls him. He came to the city 14 years ago to learn Spanish. “I want to go back to the city centre to see the places I used to know. I remember the Picasso musum,” he says in perfect Spanish but “with a Panama accent!” he laughs. Because it was in Panama, where he went to train the national gymnastics team, that he perfected the language. At the end of this year he will say goodbye to his Cirque du Soleil family to start a new career as an actor. Robert Lepage, the creator of Totem, has contracted him for his new theatre production. Until then, Umi will continue amazing the public with his skill on the barres in the group number with which Totem, a spectacular journey through the evolution of life, begins.