Exclusive: Go behind-the-scenes of Cirque Du Soleil's first-ever ice show 'Crystal'

A restlessness creative drive has always animated the spirit of Cirque Du Soleil. The French Canadian troupe first broke out in the '90s thanks to their unique and artistic take on the circus arts. But now that Cirque has established itself as the preeminent contemporary circus with dozens of shows touring all across the globe, where else is there to go?

The answer is on—and under—the ice. Cirque recently launched their first-ever ice show, "Cirque du Soleil Crystal – A Breakthrough Ice Experience," which combines breathtaking acrobatics with the gracefulness of ice skating. The show's story neatly mirrors Cirque's longtime ethos of creativity and self-expression by telling a tale of a young woman who travels into a fantastical land beneath the ice on a journey of self-discovery.

With the show heading to the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, CO for a series of performances from Jan. 31-Feb. 4, AXS caught up with the show's publicist Julie Desmarais for an exclusive look at the new show. Follow this link for tickets to select "Crystal" dates through AXS.com.

A unique challenge for both skaters and acrobats
Because of the many different disciplines in the show, the audition and training process was unlike anything Cirque had attempted before.

"We have 40 artists, that includes three musicians," Desmarais explains. "About half the cast is skaters and the other cast members are acrobats. Some of the acrobats did not know how to skate prior to joining this performance. And most of the skaters did not know how to do acrobatics. So there was a big exchange between the two worlds."

Desmarais said the casting called for both acrobats and a variety of different skaters, not just those with a background on the ice.

"Ice brings us speed. So we wanted to keep that surface and relate with the surface as much as we can throughout the performance.

"We wanted a mix of performers to be able to do the show. There is a lot of synchro in the skating but we do have freestyle skating, extreme skating, figure skating, solos and pairs," Desmarais continues. "We have some extreme skating with five extreme skaters that have different backgrounds. Some did the Red Bull Crush Ice competition and others do rollerblading, they actually bring their rollerblade skills onto the ice."

Rethinking everything
The show's producers also faced the unique challenge of presenting circus-style acts on the slick surface of the ice. Acrobats were outfitted in special costumes that allowed them to "run, tumble and spin on the ice with safety, because safety still remains our main priority," Desmarais says. But even acts as relatively straightforward as juggling had to be reimagined for "Crystal."

"Sometimes the reactions of the balls on the ice, which is colder than a floor, is different," Desmarais says. "So we have to find the proper set of juggling balls to have our juggler do his act. There's lots of little things that were presented that we had to do a lot of research and development for."

State-of-the-art technology brings "Crystal" to life
The ice also presented a unique challenge for set designers, who would be working within and around the limitations of a skating rink. Their solution was to turn the white ice into a canvas where they could use 28 projectors to project their fantastic sets.

"You have projections onto the ice that takes our audience from different environments without changing space," Desmarais explains. "We wanted both the narration and projections to tell the story of Crystal throughout the different scenes of the performance."

That might sound simple enough but the technology used to project the scenes, as well as the lighting rigs that follow the skaters, are cutting edge.

"It's a lighting system that's incorporated into the costumes," Desmarais said. "So all of the artists wear a system of three or four sensors that are sewn into their costumes. And that allows the lights to follow them on the ice and creates also that reflection onto the ice."

Beyond the technological elements, costume designers were forced to find solutions to other issues.

"There's a lot of quick changes in the show, so there's a lot of interesting challenges that we also had to go through to actually see how we could make these costume changes very quickly,"  she says. "Because sometimes there's only a minute between two scenes, so the costume design team had to go through many different phases to make the costumes as efficient as they could."

Teamwork makes the dream work
The touring company that puts on the show numbers nearly 100, Desmarais says. In addition to the 40 artists, "Crystal" employs "about 24 technicians that have various specializations: Sound, rigging, automation, video, lighting, carpentry, logistics." Just setting up the show is a massive undertaking. Once the 17 semi-trailers carrying the show arrive on location, "it takes the crew around 19 hours [to get set up] from the moment we arrive on site to the moment we're ready to go and welcome the artists on the first day of shows," Desmarais said.

That's a herculean effort, but making the impossible look easy is what the cast and crew of Cirque Du Soleil - Crystal do best. Take a look at show in the video embedded above and follow this link to get tickets to select "Crystal" performances right here on AXS.com.