Saturday, December 7, 2013
Never mind the Olympics. Nathan Dennis set his course as a high-achieving athlete so that someday he could perform with the high-flying Cirque du Soleil.
Nathan Dennis, an Australian native performing for Cirque de Soleil, practices the bungee jump at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Monday.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Olga Kobzar, a Cirque du Soleil performer, climbs the Chinese poles Monday at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
His tale reads like a storybook.
An Australian, Dennis was 13 when the circus came to Brisbane. He walked into the big top and felt mesmerized by the energy of the performers and the color of the show.
For two hours, he was transported from his ordinary life into some other world, full of color, energy and fanciful characters. Wide-eyed and full of wonder, he told his parents that he wanted to join the circus.
Dennis became a gymnast, and competed at the national and international levels with one hope: "I wanted to get to that level so that Cirque would recognize me," he said.
Now 26, Dennis is the face of the high-flying Cirque du Soleil traveling show "Saltimbanco," which takes up residency this week at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.
One of 51 cast members in the show, Dennis performs on the Russian swing, catapulting 40 feet untethered into the air. He's part of the show-closing bungee act, as well, soaring to within a few feet of the civic center's rafters and diving quickly toward the ground before springing back up.
"The higher the better," he said Monday during a break from a tune-up practice.
The show will open Wednesday and run through Sunday, with eight performances.
The crew arrived early Saturday morning, unloading 13 truckloads of equipment, including 2,500 costumes. Cast members began showing up during the weekend. Monday was their first time in the civic center.
Dennis has performed in "Saltimbanco" for nearly six years. He has traveled all over the globe, including in Europe for the past two years. He also has been to countries in the Middle East that he barely knew existed.
All because his parents took him to the circus when he was 13.
He committed himself to gymnastics and persuaded his parents to buy him a trampoline, all with the goal of getting the attention of Cirque du Soleil.
He makes flying look easy. During Monday's practice, he and the other members of the bungee quartet glided breathlessly across the open air above the stage, joining hands and performing feats of human dexterity that inspired awe.
He admitted that it isn't always easy, and he doesn't do what he does fearlessly. He once fell face first into the stage while performing on the Chinese poles, suffering a concussion. Turned and twisted ankles are routine.
He said there's no greater gut-check than flying 40 feet without ropes. He does that nightly now on the Russian swing. But the first time -- well, let's just say he had a hard time letting go. He trained for six months with a rope before performing the feat live.
"The first time you take the rope off, no training can ever prepare you for that moment," he said. "That's a pretty big moment, the first time you fly and land on a small mat."
The Montreal-based circus performs across the globe. "Saltimabanco" is among two dozen shows produced by Cirque de Soleil, about half of which tour the world.
"Saltimbanco" blends the energy of a metropolis with the wonder of a fantastical imaginary world. It is baroque and eccentric, conjuring images of Paris, Venice and other European urban centers where the visual language of street life is spoken on stage in brilliant costumes and a collage of colors.
That's the image that Dennis remembers from his youth, when he first saw Cirque du Soleil. And that is the image he likes to imprint on each audience he encounters.
"I think it's a nice thing to give to people, to come into the big top and forget their worries and their stresses and enjoy the show for two hours. I want to be the person who gives that to people."
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: