'Worlds Away': Hitting new heights on Cirque stilts
05:00 AM, Dec 21, 2012
LAS VEGAS Some people are born tall. Some have relative tallness thrust upon them.
That’s how I felt when I was invited to join the Cirque du Soleil team for a day backstage at their Beatles-themed Love production at The Mirage hotel. It’s not like I had a plethora of choices in the acrobatic circus world, which is featured in the troupe’s film Worlds Away, opening Friday.
“Are you afraid of heights?” I was asked in my pre-interview. Definitely. One giant list of activities crossed off. “Can you swim?” Apparently, talking about a love of hot baths wasn’t the right answer.
Stilt walking seemed to be the best challenge I was capable of taking on. And it had the right kind of endorsement from the Worlds Away star and aerial expert Erica Linz.
“You gauge things by the level of the ouch,” Linz says. “Stilt walking is a low-level ouch.”
But as I strap on my 3-foot stilts backstage at Love, I can’t help but think, “That floor looks awful hard.” Not splat-from-100-feet hard. But hard.
“We are not planning on touching the floor,” my Cirque instructor, known only as “Coach Dan,” tells me. He adds that if we had more time to train, the first thing he would teach me would be to “fall safely.” Not encouraging to hear as I am not even capable of falling “right” in this world.
I feel the need to tell the adorable Linz, who’s watching nearby for encouragement, to please depart as I take off for my initial flight (or fall). I like my athletic humiliations in small groups, devoid of world-class athletes. She disappears, muttering something about going to the bathroom, but returns in time to see me take my wobbly lift off.
The words of Coach Dan ring in my head. “Don’t panic, good posture, look straight ahead.” I do succeed in looking straight ahead.
But with Coach Dan’s arms outstretched one move ahead of any misstep, I eventually get the “knees up” walk of the 6-pound stilts. It’s not pretty, but there’s distinct forward movement.
I earn the right to be adorned in a lavish Cirque robe costume with a ridiculous cap.
My next move: Make it from backstage onto the Love stage. I see Coach Dan is still in front of me, making sure I don’t die.
Undeterred, I stride forth successfully. As I complete my victory lap, he tells me, “You really should be smiling.” I have a grimace-smile, Coach Dan.
So I’ve proven that I can rock the stilts without needing to call one of those Vegas billboard personal-injury lawyers. It’s not like the performer in Love who has children and small vehicles going under his legs. But I can work up to that.
I ask the film’s director, Andrew Adamson, if there’s a spot for me in any Cirque movie sequels. “Only if you’re willing to wear a really ridiculous costume,” he stammers, thinking that will put me off.
Au contraire, Mr. Adamson. Done and done. I’m ready for my close-up.