Blending acrobats and ice skating: Behind the scenes of ‘Crystal’ by Cirque du Soleil

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NORFOLK, Va. - Daring throws, acrobatic moves and imaginative storytelling. Cirque du Soleil is in Hampton Roads this weekend.

"There’s going to be a ton of energy out there for sure," said Michael Helgren, one of the performers.

"Crystal" is Cirque Du Soleil's first show on ice. There are shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at the Norfolk Scope Arena.

"The show directors really wanted to blend the two disciplines together," said Julie Desmarais, who is with Cirque du Soleil.

All of the astonishing feats of balance will take place on ice, but blending the signature acts with different forms of ice skating proved to be a challenge at first. It took about a year and a half to go from inception to the premiere of the first show.

"Ice itself is a challenge. It’s slippery. We had to do workshops and see how we could implement our acrobatics onto the ice and our way of doing things. We worked with skating coaches, acrobatics coaches and the show designers to see how these two worlds can come together," Desmarais said.

Michael Helgren, a former competitive figure skater, said being part of "Crystal" is a whole new experience.

"When you turn over and you see someone do a backflip handspring right next to you on shoes and cleats, it's something completely different," said Helgren.

What's also different is the variety of skating in the show. There are solo skaters, some extreme hockey skating (think skateboard park meets ice) and pairs skating.

In one part of "Crystal," Michael is paired with Lisa Mochizuki from Japan. The show creators use the latest technology to highlight the acrobatics and skating to create a new experience for the audience.

"There’s a number which I’m in and we use a microphone attached with our skates so all they can hear our sounds. When we stop or tap on the ice. That’s really exciting," Mochizuki said.

As acrobats and figure skaters claim their new frozen playground, Cirque du Soleil hopes to take the audience to new heights when they go to watch at the Scope Arena. There was even an intense process of finding the proper footwear so the acrobats could confidently and easily walk or run on the ice without losing their grip.

"Cirque du Soleil always aims to reinvent itself. Always wanting to be the top level. How we can do things higher by pushing these boundaries with the artistic content or technology," Desmarais said.

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