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Bhavsar Blogs on New Life in Cirque, Part 3
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Blogging from Los Angeles, world and Olympic medalist Raj Bhavsar describes his new life in Cirque du Soleil, which began its newest show, "IRIS: A Journey Through the World of Cinema," Sept. 25 at the Kodak Theatre.

Now performing in Cirque du Soleil's new Hollywood-themed show, world and Olympic medalist Raj Bhavsar concludes his exclusive blog for IG Online with behind-the-scenes updates and impressions. "IRIS: A Journey Through the World of Cinema" premiered Sept. 25 at the Kodak Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles.

Lights, camera, action!  The stage has been set and the big moment finally arrived!  The new Cirque du Soleil show, "IRIS" premiered on Sept. 25, exclusively at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles.  It's amazing to think that this show started from a mere blank canvas or a simple figment of one's imagination, and has evolved into a live, three-dimensional, dynamic theater show.  

Before I get into the meat of my bantering I want to give you a quick fun fact.  In 1987, Cirque was invited to participate in the Los Angeles Arts Festival, where it was a huge success.  The show and company were warmly embraced by the public and the local entertainment community alike, thus giving it the necessary fuel to become the entertainment mogul it is today.  The IRIS premiere, 24 years later, is momentous not only because it's back in Los Angeles, but because it pays homage to its humble beginnings.  I'm sure the night of the premiere was a "Kodak" moment for Guy Laliberte and the early founders of the company.

Recently I had the pleasure of watching the show live for the first time.  It's hard to imagine that after eight months of being involved in the project, I am just now witnessing it live for the first time.  Strange you may say, but until now, I have been involved in every performance in some capacity and have only seen trainings, rehearsals or run-throughs; really not the same experience as watching the show top to bottom, in its entirety.  I am not a certified critic named Ebert or Roeper, but I want to say that this show is magnificent and thoroughly entertaining!  I found myself sitting in the seats getting lost in its uniqueness just as any other spectator would.  I was in awe of our acrobats, wowed by our talented dancers, and I laughed at all the jokes.  Not to mention, the music by Danny Elfman soared through the house, connecting flawlessly to my emotions.  I even went into the lobby during intermission so I could join in on conversations with our lovely patrons, who were all impressed as well.  

I wish to share with you a bit more about my role with IRIS.  Outside of "roof tops," which is my main number, there are several "cues" which I perform.  

During act one, my role is much more mental than physical, in that I am focusing my attention on remotely controlling a baby machine on stage. This baby machine is one of many elements that create the cinematic world of IRIS. "Baby machine," you ask? I'll explain.  There are three motorized baby machines in the show, which are radio controlled from "somewhere" in the house. These knee-high little creatures symbolize the three distinct elements of the movie making process (light, sound and film) and are masterfully decorated to emphasize the antiquity of the past.  I have several cues with the Baby Pavilion (sound machine) and the Baby Camera. I trained and ran choreography with them for many months, since they take on personality traits, transform themselves into characters that give life to the artists who operate them.

Act two is where things start to pick up for me. It all starts immediately following intermission, with a number we call "movie set." This chain reaction scene is jam packed with full-blown acrobatics using a number of different apparatuses like teeter boards and Russian bars.  It's fueled by some energized dance choreography and musical genius that has an almost comical feel. I can't even begin to touch on all the elements in this scene without leaving something precious out (like the props) so I'll let you witness it. Did I mention ALL the artists are on stage for this one? This is one of my favorite numbers as it's so skillfully choreographed and there is so much going on, there isn't much time for a mid-number applause. Outside the little pockets of acting and dancing, you can see me doing an iron cross on a ladder toward the beginning, spinning on a camera dolly in the middle of the number, and doing some funky gymnastics on an acro-table in the end. Very fun.

Rather than give more details about the show and spoil some of the greatest moments with words, I want to take this time to give an analysis of my life as a gymnast and now as an artist.  

In terms of this new "job" and my old one as a professional gymnast, another stark difference is the schedule and training/peak cycles.   As gymnasts, we are used to six-week training cycles during which our intensity, workload and mental focus increase as competition nears.  Once competition finishes, there is maybe one or two weeks of decompression time where you still work out but the work load is lightened to give necessary rest and recovery time to your body.  For 20 years as a competitive gymnast, my body was wired for this schedule.  

In the circus realm and especially with this show, we have to find it in us to give everything we have every night.  We have 360-plus shows a year and that means we will have people in the seats night after night, ready to be entertained.  While some skills in Cirque are just tough as gymnastics, it's not the skills alone that entertain people.  An artist can learn to entertain people through their emotions and conviction to a role or character.  Artists entertain through giving selflessly and projecting outwardly, and by bringing an immense amount of life-energy every time they set foot on stage.  One off day in the gym, where you are tired, hurt and drained may just slightly affect your overall long term goal.  However, an off day as a performer — where you aren't fully alive on stage — is easily noticeable and could have an impact on the overall feel of your act in a negative way.  For an ex-gymnast like myself, a certain period of rewiring must take place mentally and physically in order to acclimate to a show schedule of this nature.  

The main similarity between the two realms is the aspect of performance.  Both gymnastics and artistic performance are extremely similar in this regard, hence the term "artistic gymnastics."   Even after retiring from the sport, I find myself reliving the glory days quite often, but the images that come to mind first are those related to the performance of routines and tricks.  I haven't talked to a single gymnast or artistic performer who got bored with the feeling of sticking the final dismount in front of a huge crowd or taking in a standing ovation at the end of a show.  Performance is an incredible stimulant for the body and mind. It usually justifies the sacrifices made in life, and makes the work leading up to the performance worthwhile.  

I could go on about the similarities and differences between the two realms but the truth in comparing the two so closely is like comparing apples to oranges.  One day I might want an apple, and the other an orange.  Both have a unique ability to wow, yet at the same time, are derived from different roots; sport and art.  

I have taken note of valuable lessons since becoming a performer on stage that I would bring with me to my life as a gymnast if I were to do it all over again.  I will leave you with this important piece of personal advice to all budding and established gymnasts out there: start thinking of the sport as an art. 

Competitive gymnastics, at its highest level, is like trying to paint a "Monet" under extreme pressure. As a gymnast, it's easy to get caught up in scores, rankings, accolades, start-values...  Pay closer attention to the artistry and performance aspect of what you are doing. In gymnastics, people are also buying tickets; they are coming to see you perform.  Approach every competition as if it were a show and every routine as if it were a piece of art.  From the moment you set foot in the arena, know that you are ultimately there to show off your talent. From the moment you salute, know that you are painting a beautiful picture for those watching, using only body and mind as your instruments.  Set your routine to music.  Does it flow? Is it appealing to the eye?  In the end, it doesn't matter where you placed, people will soon forget, but people will always connect with the emotion you gave them through your performance, and chances are you will unleash the true competitor in you. 

In closing, I want to openly confess that even though I am now retired, I will always have a long-lasting love affair with gymnastics.  Gymnastics has tremendous gifts to offer and honestly, it brought me here, to this point: performing on stage every night.  Regardless of how your career fares, commend yourself for participating in one of the world's toughest sports, and — now in my mind — most incredible art forms.  

External Link: Official IRIS Site

Raj Bhavsar is a two-time world silver medalist (2001, 2003) and member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. men's team at the 2008 Olympic Games. A native of Houston, he competed for Ohio State University, where his victories included the 2002 NCAA all-around title. Learn more about post-competitive careers with Cirque du Soleil at
Comments (2)add comment

Richard - the video dolly guy said:

Cirque du Soleil does it again
You just have to love the ideas behind Cirque du Soleil's shows. This one to address the huge audience out there that loves movies. How cool.
October 01, 2011 | url
Votes: +0

A said:

Thanks for great stories! It seems unbelievable how you guys perform on top of your game 360 days per year! I wish I could see some Cirque show someday. All the best, Mr Raj :-)
September 07, 2012
Votes: +0

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