The name Cirque du Soleil conjures high-flying acrobats performing aerial stunts that are both graceful and jaw-dropping. The brand does not, however, call ice skating to mind.
“It’s a new surface we’ve been exploring now for a couple of years,” said Julie Desmarais, senior publicist for “AXEL,” the new touring show from the Quebec-based company that arrives Thursday at the Berglund Center in Roanoke. “Cirque du Soleil always aims to push boundaries, exploring new ways of exploring acrobatics by using different mediums. Ice seemed to be a natural way of evolving and pushing the boundaries and reinventing ourselves.”
The result, in this instance, sounds a bit like a family-friendly rock opera. The main character, Axel, is an aspiring singer-songwriter. “All the music is performed live, and he sings all the songs in the performance, which are in English,” said Desmarais.
Axel is an artist, too, and the things he imagines in his sketchbook come to life on the stage, including an alter ego of his love interest, Lei, and a seductive villain simply named Vi. “She gets her light stolen by the villain. From there, there’s a big quest of finding yourself and getting the light back and achieving the dreams you want to accomplish,” said Desmarais.
Audience members can expect to see plenty of spectacular stunts both on the ice and in the air. “We have 41 artists. We have 18 acrobats that learned to master their discipline while they wear skates, so you’ll see a lot of aerial feats, and you’ll see a new discipline called aerial chains,” wherein the performers use chains instead of ropes, “with ice skates on. We have an amazing bungee act, which is kind of a celebration. Then you also have skaters who will wear harnesses and fly in the air, which is also something new to them.”