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Why Cirque Du Soleil is actually a lot like the NFL

Nov 13, 2013, 5:51 PM PST

They study their playbooks, listen to their coaches, spend countless hours practicing, training and watching film, then suit up in uniform and take the stage. Wait, stage?

In a lot of ways the performers of Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna are just like NFL players. Both groups travel around the country, have incredible physiques, and rely on their teammates to carry out the vision of their coaches. And like football players, Cirque Du Soleil athletes perform under intense pressure in front of an often nervous crowd.

The main difference is that at Cirque Du Soleil, they aren’t competing. The only winner is the audience and the loser could suffer devastating injury if a stunt goes wrong.

“To see the talent of these athletes who train and perfect what they do over years of study and development, and then put it into a theatrical setting, it’s sort of the best of both worlds,” Amaluna director Diane Paulus said.

Paulus is a Tony Award-winning director of musicals and she appreciates the parallels between her performers and American pro athletes. She likens it more to the Olympics, though. Most of the Cirque Du Soleil artists are former professional gymnasts. What they are doing now has a much higher degree of difficulty. Instead of doing a solo uneven bars act for a judge, they do their act with seven other gymnasts on the bars at the same time.

At Cirque Du Soleil, they basically take something incredibly hard and then up the ante.

On Tuesday, during one of their practice sessions, a girl was doing a handstand on two thin vertical wooden sticks while spinning around. The incredible feat of balance, strength and flexibility was mind-blowing. Moments later, she was on stage doing the same thing while soaking wet over a huge bowl of water. Yup, there’s a very small percentage of the population that can do that.

To find their elite performers, Cirque Du Soleil borrows from the playbook of popular sport. They heavily recruit their athletes and then train them. Some of their performers go to National Circus School for seven years before they go on tour.

“We have people that have done so many different things in their lives before joining Cirque, from competition to professional sports in various fields,” Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna company manager Jamie Reilly said. “We offer extensions to those careers.”

If you need to bite the bullet and take your significant other to a show, you could actually be tricking them into going to a sports event under the big top. The show took a year to rehearse and create with about five months of intense daily rehearsal. Sure, what you’ll be watching was inspired by Shakespeare, Mozart and Greek Mythology, but wait until you see the girl in the water bowl.

The big top will be stationed next to AT&T Park in San Francisco from November 13 through January 12.

Behind the scenes under the big top: 

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