LUZIA: Behind Cirque du Soleil’s latest run at Royal Albert Hall

TPi visits the Cirque du Soleil – LUZIA team during rehearsals at Production Park to discover how they are resurrecting the show from the ashes of COVID-19, primed for a grand return at London’s famous Royal Albert Hall.

You know it’s a strange day in the office when you’re conducting interviews with acrobats performing somersaults several feet in the air off a Russian Swing. Ahead of the Cirque du Soleil’s residency at London’s Royal Albert Hall with their show LUZIA, the production team kindly welcomed TPi to one of their rehearsal dates at Production Park to lift the lid on some of the intricacies of this latest touring big top show.

This was the second time LUZIA made a temporary home at Royal Albert Hall, having opened the show in the iconic venue back in 2020. Following a successful run of shows, the big top performance headed east to Moscow. Sadly, just as they were about to open to the general public, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the production in its tracks. 

Almost two years later, TPi was sat in the production office of LUZIA Technical Director, Craig McGregor, who gave a first hand account of the days preceding the 2020 cancellation. “We found ourselves having to pack down the show into 90 trucks, which after some time found their way to the Netherlands to be stored.” This meant that everything from the production – such as stage sets and costumes all the way to PA systems – didn’t see the light of day for many months as Cirque du Soleil, along with the rest of the sector, assessed when they could get back on the road. 

Once the green light was given to the production in the summer of 2021, an enormous effort was made to assess the equipment that had been laying dormant for the entire first part of the lockdown. “Some of the equipment definitely fared better than others,” mused Set Carpenter, Dylan Farrell, who spoke to TPi on the side of the large bespoke stage. “It was snowing when we were packing down in Moscow, meaning equipment was getting dusted with snow while loading into the trucks. Surprisingly, many of the big set pieces held up well, but some of our more technical elements – from motors to anything with batteries – had to be looked at,” he noted. 

“We’ve nicknamed that show ‘the phoenix’,” chuckled McGregor as he talked through the months of painstaking work to have this production rise from the ashes of COVID-19. LUZIA is arguably one of the most technical productions that Cirque du Soleil has ever put on, due to its inclusion of an impressive water system. This was used several times during the performance. Cyr wheel artists perform an unprecedented feat of rolling and spinning under the rain, while an aerialist suspended from a trapeze flies and twirls through pouring showers. “The water system has many bespoke parts and is truly a unique set piece,” commented McGregor.  

Before drenching the performers on stage, the water travels through a multi-stage process from a filtration system to remove any impurities as well as heating to a temperature to ensure performers did not get ill. “We go through a lot of water every day due various factors such as evaporation, splash as well as being lost during the filtration system,” explained McGregor.

Production Park curates a bespoke rehearsal space for Cirque du Soleil

Water on stage in any form of entertainment is never ideal, but when you have acrobatics performing a death-defying stunt on stage, any water on stage becomes even more of a potential hazard. “We have a number of ways in which we’re dealing with water on stage,” stated Farrell. “One way is with our custom-built zambonetts as we call them. Actors roll these out on stage and underneath they have a super absorbent material. They also act as set props in the transition stage between a water scene and the next act.” The presence of water also required the inclusion of specific IP67 or 68-rated lighting and motor equipment. 

“The other massive set piece we have to deal with each day is a giant treadmill for the hoop diving stunt,” added Farrell. The treadmill in question weighed almost four tonnes. “To move the pieces across the stage we had to ensure the stage was incredibly strong and then also work closely with the team at the Royal Albert Hall when we first went into the venue back in 2020 as we were bringing in some very heavy set pieces.” 

McGregor was clearly excited to have the performance return to the famed venue. “This year actually marks 25 years of Cirque du Soleil in the Hall, not to mention the 150th anniversary of the famed venue. With two landmark celebrations, I’m proud it’s LUZIA we’re bringing back to the Hall as it’s the flagship of Cirque du Soleil touring shows. With this show, we’re really announcing to the world stage that we’re back and still on top.”

The return to the Royal Albert Hall also acted as somewhat of a reunion for the local suppliers who are always on hand to aid in Cirque’s incoming productions – namely Britannia Row Productions. “We’ve been supporting Cirque du Soleil for two decades of Royal Albert Hall productions,” said Britannia Row Productions Director, Lez Dwight. “Playing in the Hall is very different to playing in a big top and although they have their own audio system we always come in to provide audio support to cater for the unique aspects of the venue. Having supplied LUZIA on its last UK visit, Brit Row then sent equipment to Moscow only to see it sit in a truck for months as the pandemic took hold. We got to the stage where we thought we’d never see it again,” he admitted.

Happy to see the production return to the venue, Dwight explained what was being provided this time round. “Each time they come to the Hall, we always make a point to provide them with the latest equipment,” he said, detailing the finer points of the L-Acoustics system supplied for the run of shows. “This time for example we added some of the latest models of subs with the KS21S along with some A15s. On the whole, it’s a similar design to the show in 2020 with just a few small tweaks.” Overall, Dwight explained that as part of Brit Row’s service, they’re always on call for any issues that may suddenly arise. “A day or so before opening night, the audio department needed 70m of Cat5 cable, which we were able to get to the venue within hours.”

This article originally appeared in issue #268 of TPi, which you can read here.