Combining the theatrics and acrobatics of a Cirque du Soleil show with the finesse and skill of a figure-skating competition has its challenges. Like the fact that not everyone who can juggle or balance on a wire also knows how to skate.

Take juggler Jorge Petit, 33, who grew up in the sweltering heat of Chile. He had never put on a pair of skates until Cirque Du Soleil cast him about three year ago in its first ice show, Crystal. But suddenly he had to balance seven balls in the air, and himself, at the same time.

“It was really hard. Usually when I juggle I try to relax, but on skates, you can’t,” Petit said last week. “I have to be moving and throw the balls a little differently than I normally do. It was a lot of hard work.”

The hard work of Petit and other skating circus performers will be on display Aug. 7-11 when Cirque du Soleil Crystal comes to Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. The run opens with 7:30 p.m. shows Aug. 7-10 and includes matinees on Aug. 10 and 11.

Cirque du Soleil Crystal, featuring acrobats, jugglers and skaters, will be at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland Aug. 7-11.  Photo by Matt Beard

The show features more than 40 artists, including figure skaters, acrobats, aerialists, gymnasts, musicians, a juggler and a comic.  Eighteen trucks will unload some 2,000 costume pieces, as well as the walls, ramps, stairs and lights needed to create the magical icy backdrop for the two-hour show.

The show tells the story of a young woman named Crystal, feeling somewhat like a misfit in her life, who falls into an icy pond and dreams up a magical fantasy world while under water. With Crystal on ice is her reflection (another skater who looks like Crystal), and together they encounter a variety of other characters.

Other performers represent Crystal’s family and friends and “the shadows” or dark side of her life.

At various times, Crystal and others fly through the air on wires or on trapeze. There are several skating routines, including pairs, synchronized skating and extreme skating, featuring ramps and other obstacles. Musicians can be seen on ice providing part of the soundtrack.

In one scene, acrobats and skaters collide to form a swirling underwater vortex that sweeps Crystal away. In another scene, acrobats on skates fly off a giant swing set. There are also some high-flying hockey players who use ramps to jump nets and each other.

After Crystal discovers a talent for drawing, she finds she can create characters and bring them to life with stroke of her pen. The characters she creates fill the ice and perform to a lively, klezmer-infused tune. One of those is Petit, who performs his juggling tricks during this sequence.

Cirque du Soleil Crystal will be at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland Aug. 7-11 Matt Beard Photography

In one trick, Petit throws balls over his right shoulder and catches them as he skates quickly in a circle. In another trick, he juggles bouncing balls on a moving stairway. He is even lifted into the air by wires while juggling. His white costume has black zig-zag triangular shapes all over it, because his character was created by Crystal using origami.

Growing up near Santiago, Chile’s captial, Petit never thought he’d be in a show on ice. In fact, he didn’t become interested in juggling until he was 16 and saw a friend do it in school. He started juggling at home, on the street and in local shows. He kept at it, and at the age of 26, he was admitted to Cirque du Soleil’s famed performance school in Quebec City, Canada. The company has been putting on innovative circus-style productions around the world since the early 1980s. This production of Crystal debuted in late 2017.

When he was offered the chance to be in Crystal, Petit didn’t hesitate, though he knew he’d have to learn a whole new set of skills. But as a performer, he’s fueled by the excitement at each show and the roar of an audience.

“I found early that I’m motivated by the adrenaline of doing shows,” said Petit. “I just really want to be on a stage, no matter where it is.”

Even if it’s on ice.


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