- Boom Boom struts his stuff, all hamster-like, on the German wheel.
We're not sure how seriously to take a guy whose repertoire includes characters such as Boom Boom and the Romantic. But Shayne Courtright, the 25-year-old German wheel artist with Cirque du Soleil, is sincere about his craft.
"I was trained as an acrobat," he says. "I've been training since I was very young. My timing is really good. And I don't get dizzy."
The splendid, dizzying Cirque du Soleil is making its Cleveland premiere -- for three weeks, beginning September 27 -- with Quidam, a traveling show made up of 50 performers showing off their individual artistry with such devices and tricks as the intriguing-sounding Spanish webs, aerial contortion in silk, and, of course, German wheel.
"It's six feet in diameter and weighs about a hundred pounds," Courtright says of the circular apparatus, which would make a giant hamster envious. "I get inside of it and roll around and do different tricks. I can manipulate it, since it's not super-heavy. I just hop on the wheel and go for it.
"It's actually a sport in Germany. They train for it, like gymnastics. I [treat] it like an extreme sport."
Quidam is a Latin word that means "anonymous passerby." And the mesmerizing stunts performed by Cirque du Soleil often rush past audiences in a flurry of ambiguity, mystery, and excitement. The show's protagonist, a little girl, "goes on a journey into her imagination," Courtright explains. "The different acts come out, and each [represents] an emotion. We're much more emotional than other circuses."
And don't mistake Cirque du Soleil for the Ringling Bros. variety of circus. The focus is on acrobatics and the theatrical. Since 1984, the Quebec-based troupe has produced more than a dozen shows, won several Emmy awards, and set up permanent homes at Walt Disney World and Las Vegas. "This isn't a regular circus with animals," Courtright says. "The big group of us is the animals.
"It's a mix between theater and dance and singing. There's a lot of character work, which also separates us [from other circuses]."
So, let's talk about Boom Boom, whom Courtright abandoned for his solo German wheel act. "Boom Boom is like death," he explains. "Something dangerous is about to happen if Boom Boom's onstage. He likes the danger. He's like a dead clown."
Quidam promises to turn "gravity on its head." And with a conveyor 120 feet above the ground, feeding artists onto the stage, hopefully gravity won't be bringing performers down on their heads. Not to worry, says Courtright: While there is room for extemporization, the troupe is filled with determined professionals. "Different things happen every night, and you kinda have to improvise," he says. "But that's what keeps it fresh.
"I'm there at the beginning of the show, waking up the public and drawing them into the show. I tell them that it's OK to applaud, it's OK to scream."