Cirque Eloize takes saloons to a different level
Tschofen enjoys performing
The word “saloon” conjures up images of the Wild West — gunslingers, honky-tonk pianos, can-can dancing, bar fights and libations.
Cirque Eloize’s “Saloon” takes all of that in consideration and adds some acrobatics and live folk music in the mix.
Audiences will get two chances to see “Saloon” when the Park City Institute present Cirque Eloize on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 21 and 22, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
The Park Record caught up with acrobat and musician Shena Tschofen, a performer with Cirque Eloize, on the phone this week to talk about the shows.
“The idea of Jeannot Painchaud, the artistic director of Cirque Eloize, was to make a show that would bring the company back to his roots growing up on the Magdalen Islands,” Tschofen said during a phone call from Riverside, California. “Folk music was a big part of his life. So, he got together with the show’s composer (and cousin), Eloi
Painchard, to make a circus show that had a live music component to it.”
The idea was then passed to the show’s director Emmanuel Guillaume.
“They auditioned and chose 10 artists and added an 11th later, and we all [worked on] the show together,” Tschofen said. “The director just didn’t tell us what to do. He proposed ideas to us and we were allowed to play off those ideas and do some improvisation to see what would come up. So, it was a giant team effort.”
As with all Cirque Eloize performances, acrobatics are a big part of the productions.
“I think acrobatics is a fun game to play with trust, because you have to trust your partner with your life,” Tschofen said. “I think all of us have this implicit trust in each other.
“It’s become a thing that we don’t have to talk about anymore,” she said. “We know we are able to take care of things that come up.”
Because Tschofen isn’t just an acrobat, she had an additional worry.
“At first, in my case, having all of these instruments on stage made me nervous because there are so many objects — including bodies and props — that fly through the air,” she said. “So, I had to trust the people on stage as well.”
Tschofen said she lucked out to be part of this particular cast.
“We’re a really cohesive group,” she said. “Everyone gets along well and we all love to work with each other.”
The group’s cohesiveness, however, doesn’t mean all the performances have been goof free.
“There are some bloopers where things haven’t gone as planned, but we have been able to cover for it because there is always someone who is able to step in to help,” Tschofen said.
“Saloon” is Tschofen’s first long-term touring contract outside of school, and Cirque Eloize has done nearly 100 shows since August.
She said the experience has been eye opening.
“The trick is not to get bored,” she said. “That’s easy because the show had been changing since we went on tour. That was intense for a while, but I have got more comfortable. And we just finished modifying it in December.”
The biggest challenge for Tschofen is playing the music.
“Since I also play music in the show, it’s hard for me to always hear the music very well,” she said. “There are three other musicians who play full time and they are able to have ear monitors, but since I’m also an acrobat, I can’t have ear monitors because after a couple of flips, they fall out.”
The other challenge is one the whole cast faces.
“We’re all on stage more than 80 percent of the show and what we do is really involved, so we all get really tired,” Tschofen said.
If on-stage challenges weren’t enough, Tschofen had to do some off-stage adjustments.
“Adapting to the touring lifestyle was huge because you’re literally living out of your suitcase,” she said. “Anything that can’t fit in 50 pounds doesn’t go with you.”
She also had to adjust her sleep schedule.
“I like to get up early in the morning, but that doesn’t happen on tour,” she said with a laugh. “You finish a show at 10 o’clock at night and then you want to eat and you don’t got to sleep right away because you still have that adrenaline rush.
“By the time you go to bed it’s already 1 or 2 in the morning,” she said. “So, you can’t get just get up at 7 o’clock and say hello to the sunrise.”
Then there’s the idle time before a show.
“You have to have your own personal projects to keep you busy,” Tschofen said. “I like to knit, so I always have my knitting with me.”
All of those concerns disappear when the performances or rehearsals start.
“My main discipline is cyr wheel and my main goal was to do something with it that hasn’t been seen before,” Tschofen said.
The cyr wheel is a large hoop that the performer uses to gyroscopically spin, twist and roll around on the stage.
“I love creating new stuff and I came up with a vocabulary for me that is completely unique,” Tschofen said. “There are others who do similar tricks and have similar techniques that I do, but I have created some things that no one else has ever done.”
The music is another enjoyable element.
“I never thought I would be able to do that, even though music has been a huge part of my life since I was very little,” she said.
Tschofen started playing classical violin and doing gymnastics when she was 4. At 6, she began circus performing.
“I started learning how to fiddle, specifically Irish fiddling, when I was 13 or 14, so I delved into the realm of fiddling versus classical playing at that time,” she said. “As far as the circus, I was in various youth circuses for a long time.”
Tschofen got accepted to the National Circus School in Montreal in 2013 and graduated in June.
“One of the coaches at the school is one of the coaches at Eloize,” she said. “He came to me and said, ‘You’re a fiddle-playing, lassoing acrobat. Are you interested in auditioning for the show?’“
While performing is always a thrill, Tschofen enjoys the connection with the audience.
“I love looking at people faces in the audience when I’m on stage,” she said. “During one of the first acts, I sit on stage and play music. So, I can look at the audience without being conspicuous.”
Park City Institute will present Cirque Eloize, the Montreal-based performance group that blends theatrics, dance, acrobatics, music and fun, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 21-22, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Cirque Eloize’s new show is called “Saloon.” Tickets range from $29 to $79 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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