Michael Ocampo has been on the road with Cirque du Soleil for more than 20 years.
Ocampo was recruited by the acrobatic circus show in 1993, when he was competing at the Canadian national tumbling championship. Cirque scouts noticed Ocampo’s skills at trampoline and gymnastics and asked him to audition.
Since then, Ocampo has been combining his athleticism and gymnastic skills with the artistry of Cirque du Soleil. He performed with the circus’ traveling shows for 10 years before switching to coaching. When Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai” comes to the Colonial Life Arena today, audiences will see Ocampo’s work in motion.
Most of Cirque du Soleil’s acrobatic performers come to the show with 10 to 15 years of experience in the athletic realm, typically gymnastics, Ocampo said.
Ocampo adds the artistry to his performers’ athletic bases to create the high level of performance Cirque du Soleil is known for. In “Varekai,” acrobats perform in challenging routines, including one including a Russian swing. The swing catapults the performers into the air, where they perform flips and other tricks. In previous performances of “Varekai,” the performers jump from swing to swing, which requires skill and precision of movement.
“We’ve taken the acrobatics of a circus and heightened that and accentuated that and put the focus onto that,” Ocampo said.
“Varekai” tells the story of Icarus, who, in Greek mythology, falls victim to his own hubris and flies too closely to the sun with wings made with wax. Instead of plummeting to his death like in the myth, “Varekai’”s Icarus falls onto a volcanic island, where the story takes place.
“Not all Cirque shows have a storyline that’s easy to follow like this,” Ocampo said. “The story makes it quite special with ‘Varekai.’”
Cirque du Soleil is very different than traditional American circuses, Ocampo said. Instead of the slapstick clowns and giant animals you may find at a typical circus, Cirque puts a heavy emphasis on the artistry of the performance, recruiting from premier circus schools and athletic groups.
“When people think of a traditional circus, they think of the animals and all that and it’s very much an experience created for children,” Ocampo said. “Cirque du Soleil is great for children, but also the adults. Everything is taken to enhance the theatricality of the acrobatic performance. It’s a blend of theater and acrobatics.”