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Monday, Oct. 3, 2011

Gravity Defying Circus

Cirque Du Soleil at the Bradley Center

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Mention the name Cirque Du Soleil and a different meaning—and image—comes to mind, based on who you're talking to: gravity-defying acrobatics,  human bodies bending and shaping into amazing forms,  performers riding high on stilts easily balancing on gigantic balls,  bungee jumping. You name it and most likely people think they've seen it, real or imagined.

And that's Cirque Du Soleil ("Circus of the Sun").  For a few hours, this contemporary circus—which combines, theater, street entertainment amid exotic music and dazzling costumes—takes its audiences on a fantastic voyage, conjuring a dream like reality while telling a story amid aerial loops, hand balancing, trapeze, ballet and so much more.

Its ninth production, Quidam (pronounced kee-DAHM) takes center stage at the Bradley Center later this month for a five day run.  Quidam tells the story of the young girl, Zoe, who is ignored by her parents and so, creates the world of Quidam to escape her boredom and alienation. Guiding Zoe—and the audience—through this escapist fantasy is the main character, John, a TV game show host.

For Mark Ward, playing John was a big challenge, considering he was trained as a ballet dancer.  "I had to find my way into the character through the conflict between being an adult and being a child,"  he explained.  It's a long international journey for the 45 year old Ward, who was raised in Denton, Texas and worked with Ballet Chicago before making his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina,

The youthful looking Ward joined the Cirque organization 18 years ago and has moved up in the shows—literally. As a dancer with his feet firmly planted on the ground (most of the time, that is), he is as adept at bungee jumping and Chinese pulls as he is at tumbling and gymnastics. He recalls the first day of training with CDS. Ward walked the Angus Studios (a big, abandoned train station) in Montreal in 1993 and came across a human version of the Tower of Babel.

"People were flying on bungees, walking on balls, speaking French, Creole, and other language.  I was just blown away," he recalls. "I was excited but also thought, 'what I have I gotten myself into?' It was such an amazing, eye opening experience for me."

The role of John has continued to expand Ward's talents, requiring him to act in addition to all the other talents called upon in a Cirque show. In addition, the actor who originated the role of John is white; Ward is black.  "The public accepted me right away," he recalls, adding "I didn't accept me right away."

Twelve years of playing John has changed all that for Ward, who has never missed a single performance in any of his Cirque shows (that's 6,500 and counting!)

Preparation for each show requires three hours start time: two for makeup, 30 minutes for hair and the remaining 30 to prepare mentally and physically.

But even with all that work and preparation, he has one goal in mind, performance to performance.

"For me as a Cirque performer, my job is to entertain. If you're gracious enough to buy a ticket, I want you to be entertained," says Ward. "If I can put a smile on your face and transport you to Quidam, then my job is done."

Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam runs Oct. 19-23 at the Bradley Center. For more information, call: (414) 227- 0400 or visit: www.bradleycenter.com
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