Coming home: Cirque du Soleil returns to Montreal for the first time since the start of the pandemic

After months perfecting the most daring tricks and flips, it was an emotional return to the stage in Montreal this week for Cirque du Soleil’s artists, finally performing again in the province where the famous circus was born.

The Cirque’s touring show ‘KOOZA’ opened in the Old Port of Montreal on Thursday, the first performance in Quebec since the pandemic almost dealt a death blow to the acrobatic shows.

“We're all a little more grateful to be here, and we cherish the moments a bit more, just cause it was ripped away all of a sudden,” Matthew Antonucci, a Cirque du Soleil performer, told CTV News. “So I definitely feel coming back, there were tighter hugs and bigger kisses.”

Cirque du Soleil was first established in 1984 in Montreal with just 20 street performers. Although the troupe became a phenomenon over the decades since, the curtains for the entire business nearly closed for good in 2020.

The Cirque was forced to shutter 44 of its shows around the world, laying off nearly 5,000 employees — 95 per cent of its staff, including teeterboard artist Talita De Lima.

“This is my everything,” she told CTV News. “It's my life, it's my family, and when this happened, it was very sad for us — don’t have our job, and we don't know if we'll come back or not.”

Cirque de Soleil is known for its daring acrobatic tricks, brilliant colours and wildly creative shows, full of performers contorting their bodies, hanging from ropes and trapezes, and performing other feats of human flexibility that look nearly impossible to the average eye.

It’s a highly specialized industry — when Cirque had to shutter almost all of its shows, those performers didn’t have many other places where they could perform on the same level.

Lima went home to Brazil to be with family during the pandemic.

She says that while she kept up with weights and gymnastics while away from the Cirque, it wasn't as easy as she thought it would be for her body to start spinning and twirling again when rehearsals resumed back in the fall.

“When I start, my body said ‘oh uh, something wrong,’” she said. “I'm like, ‘OK, it take a few weeks for the body to feel like, what's happening.’ After one week, everything is fine, it's perfect.”

Cirque started rolling out more shows last summer, reopening a few in Las Vegas, Nevada and returning to Canada in April with the opening of ‘Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities’ in Toronto, Ontario.

A rebirth is also taking shape behind the scenes, as the troupe looks to bounce back from the brink of bankruptcy.

“We had to keep adapting to the evolution of the pandemic, so that by far has been the hardest to manage,” Stephane Lefebvre, president of Cirque du Soleil, told CTV News.

Over 100,000 tickets have sold so far for this show in Montreal alone, and its run has been extended into August — hopefully the beginning of a high-flying comeback.

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