How to create a Cirque du Soleil show - behind the scenes of Ovo

Love them or loathe them, bugs are all around us. But it's not every day that you come across a group of insects like the ones in Ovo. These critters are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Originally created as a big-top show in 2009 to mark the 25th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil, Ovo, which means “egg” in Portuguese, is a homage to nature.

It explores a colourful ecosystem where insects crawl, flutter, bounce and look for love in a non-stop display of energy, style and movement.

The story focuses on a community of insects, the harmony within it and how they cope when an awkward, offbeat "foreigner", a house fly carrying a large egg, arrives.

But the show has, according to its artistic director Tim Bennett, an important message about social inclusion.

The cast of Ovo

"[Ovo is about] an insular colony of insects into which walks a foreigner, and he’s initially rejected because he’s different," Bennett says.

"As they get to know him, they realise that he’s actually much more similar to them than he is different.

"Humans, like bugs, are industrious, loyal, curious, flirtatious, courageous, and kind."

"We enjoy the comfort of those similar to ourselves, and may be frightened of people who are different… until we get to know them.

"It’s a universal story of inclusion and acceptance, and is quite timely today."

The show, the 25th live production from Cirque, features eye-catching acrobatic acts, aerial displays,unusual circus skills and plenty of light-hearted fun set to vibrant South American rhythms.

It is these, along with the elaborate, colourful costumes and make-up, that makes Cirque appeal to all across countries, cultures and ages.

The fly and the ladybird

The cast, made up of some 50 performers from 21 countries, are dragonflies, crickets, spiders, ants, fleas, butterflies, a scene-stealing coquettish ladybird and a slinky worm like character called "creatura".

And each one has their own unique, handmade outfit, which takes at least 40 hours to create.

"Every costume is different," explains Luana Ouverney, Ovo's head of wardrobe. "That’s why it’s so magical to watch."

Ouverney, a former fashion designer, is responsible for not only making sure that every costume, headpiece and shoe is in perfect condition but that they are practical too.

The white spider

"The costumes, they have to fit well," she adds. "But they also have to be practical and they have to be safe."

"But they have to be athletic and eye-catching."

If that is not enough, each artiste has two back-up costumes, as the outfits are washed after every performance (the show travels with six washing machines and two dryers).

And as the outfits look almost identical, every piece is carefully labelled to ensure that there is no confusion as to who which they belong to.

In case of any wardrobe malfunctions, there is a team of seamstresses and sewing machines on site, too.

Qiu Jiangming performing on the slackwire

Among the acts in the show is Qiu Jiangming, a slackwire artist from China, who performs on what can only be described as a sagging tight rope.

During rehearsals he performs forward and backward rolls on a wire several metres above the circular stage as well as a riding a small unicycle while balancing upside down on his head.

All the time he is under the watchful eye of his personal coach (and mother) Kong Yulan, who is at the side of the stage.

Alanna Baker as the Black Spider

Another is Alanna Baker, a former acrobatic gymnast for Great Britain, who is the show's Black Spider.

She was just eight-years-old when she realised that she wanted to join the circus.

She was watching the Cirque du Soleil show Dralion at the Royal Albert Hall with her parents when she thought to herself “I want to do that”

Seventeen years later, and after winning world and European medals, she is now living out her childhood dream.

Was the transition from gymnast to circus performer an easy one?

"You’re not training for one competition any more – we have got to be on our A-game to perform a number of shows a day," she said. "That takes a lot of adapting.

"I can perform in front of 6,000 people, it’s such an adrenalin rush and it’s fun watching people’s reactions in the audience.

"Some are scared by my character, some are intrigued. Each audience is different though so it keeps it fun and interesting."

"It’s crazy," she adds. "I’m living the dream, seeing the world and visiting places I never thought I’d visit."

The Chinese foot juggling "Ants"

One of the acts that is often talked about is the Chinese "foot jugglers" because it is the "one that most people haven’t ever seen before".

"It’s a team of six Chinese acrobat Ants who juggle pieces of 'food' and then each other… with their feet," says Bennett.

"We also have a combination of trampoline and a crazy huge climbing wall – the biggest of its kind.

"And since crickets can jump 300 times their body height, we have our crickets jumping, bouncing, and leaping all over the wall via the trampolines.

"Finally, we have a straps act where our two butterflies soar and dance high in the hall in what is the most beautiful and exciting love duet that I’ve ever seen."

Catherine Audy and Alexis Trudel Credit: Alastair Muir 

But what makes it all worth while, apart from the sense of joy that can be seen on the audience's faces, is the comradery among the performers, cast and crew.

"We’re just like a big family," says Baker. "We do everything together, which helps when you’re away from home so much."

These sentiments are echoed by Bennett, a former performer himself, who starred in productions of The Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific and My Fair Lady.

"We are a mix of many languages, skin colours, religions, and cultures – French, Russian, American, Ukrainian, Brazilian, British…  and many more," he says.

"We work as a team without regard to politics or borders, and the trust between us has to be uncompromising.

"If we can all work together at the circus to do what we do, there is no reason why others around the world can’t do the same."

Cirque du Soleil's Ovo is on at the Royal Albert Hall until March 4