It’s been over 30 years since the circus performance phenomenon Cirque du Soleil was founded in Quebec. In the years since, its eye-popping live shows have set a new benchmark for acrobatic spectacles. This month, Cirque du Soleil’s show OVO comes to the UK, bringing with it Surrey-born gymnast Alanna Baker in the role of Black Spider.
For Baker, her current job was a childhood ambition. She says: “I was a gymnast from the very young age of five. My dream to be in Cirque du Soleil started when I saw my first show of theirs, when I was eight years old. It was Dralion at the Royal Albert Hall. I fell in love with Cirque straight away and said to my parents that that’s what I wanted to do.”
Baker, who represented GB in European and world gymnastics championships, now relishes the privilege of taking the stage on to home turf. “Performing in the UK is such an amazing feeling. The chance to be able to perform in front of so many family and friends, people I used to work with, people I used to compete and train with, it’s so nice. People come out of the woodwork who maybe I haven’t seen in years and message me to say that they’re coming to watch.”
The lavish OVO show conjures up an entire insect ecosystem before the audience’s eyes, into which is introduced a mysterious and troublesome egg. As the scuttling PVC-clad Black Spider, Baker channels all her gymnastics experience to perform extraordinary physical feats. Did she settle for looking at spiders’ movements via video clips, or actually get out into the garden to study real ones?
“I actually did both,” she says. “YouTube videos are good to a certain extent but I feel it’s got to come from within how you want to portray that character. I find myself watching a spider if I see one out and about as they’re so interesting!”
The arena version of OVO has been on the road for over two years now. Baker acknowledges that requires a special effort to keep focused. “Every day when you go on stage it’s for a different audience, so it always changes. As an artist, you should never stop growing. If you start to get bored on stage, then that’s where you’ve gone wrong and you’re not exploring. You have to push your boundaries.”
Even within the tightly-drilled framework of such a show, there’s still freedom for Baker to improvise to a degree.
“Obviously I have to stick to the storyline and entrances and exits, but how I travel from A to B can completely be down to how I feel, which I love.
“I play with that every day. I tend to use my emotions to drive me with how my character will come across for each performance.
“OVO is such a fun, colourful, loving, happy show. It’s full of life, beauty, incredible acrobatics, music and passion. You’ll no doubt leave with a smile on your face!”
OVO plays Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle on dates in August (cirquedusoleil.com/ovo)
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