The Science Behind Cirque du Soleil

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Photo Source: courtesy mclaren engineering group

Art and science collide at McLaren Engineering Group. The international firm has an entertainment department that works with groups like Cirque du Soleil to make sure that their equipment, sets, props, and performers are safe. Andrew Habel, Florida regional director at McLaren, recently headed up the adaptation of Cirque’s “La Nouba” bamboo aerial act for an outdoor venue.

Why does Cirque work with McLaren?
We’ve been working with Cirque for almost 10 years. McLaren has a specialty within entertainment design. We understand strange structures; we know how to understand a show. There are specific dynamics to this.

What are those dynamics?
It’s very important to understand the design intent and the artistic intent of the show. How is the piece being used? How fast are the moves? You have to understand how the performers are interacting in the piece.

How does the process start?
Many times, it varies. For [the bamboo aerial act], it was an existing show. The performers are Russian. They’ve been doing this act for years, and Cirque brought them in. They said, “We have this new act, we want to review the show components for safety.” We analyzed the pieces and created drawings of what they had and recommended reinforcements. They had been using these components in their show in Russia for who knows how long—it wasn’t unsafe, but it wasn’t up to our standards. We had to be careful with the modifications. If you go too far and reinforce too heavily, it changes the feel and that can throw the performer off because they’re so calibrated with that.

So there’s a balance you have to hit. There is definitely coordination between the performers and the client. There is attention paid to what we’re doing: Is it a minor thing or are we changing the look of the show? If it’s changing the look of the show, maybe we need to go back and find a new solution. It’s very important to see how they use the show so we’re not designing something that won’t work.

Why do you like working with artistic groups like Cirque?
There’s a lot of variety. You’re looking at something different all the time. There’s a wow factor. If you designed a building, people would be like, “Oh, OK.” But if you can point to entertainment, you elicit more of a response. There’s an excitement because it’s a show or an attraction, something they went to see. There’s a buzz around it, and to be part of that is a really cool thing.

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