I love Cirque du Soleil and one of my favorite acts is the skipping rope act. I had a chance to interview Adrienn Banhegyi who is simply amazing! She takes us through her training, her life on the road, and how she has skipped her way into the hearts of Quidam audiences.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell us where you are from and when you first started skipping rope.
Adrienn: My name is Adrienn Banhegyi. I am from Hungary, and I have been doing jump rope for 18 years.
How old were you when you first started rehearsing for this routine?
I was invited for an audition hold by Cirque du Soleil 6 years ago in France, where they were looking for rope skippers. I got a contract from them this year in April, to do solo skipping in Quidam. Most of the artists, before performing in a show, have to go through several training sessions in Montreal (where the headquarter of Cirque is located) and learn the choreographies, improve their performing skills and also learn to do their own make up. It’s a very intensive training for a minimum of 2-3 weeks or longer, depending on how difficult the act is. After this, the artists continue rehearsing with the show, on tour, practicing the act on stage, in costumes and make-up, together with the other artists. So, it takes about 3 weeks to get to the first real performance.
What is it about skipping rope that makes it so enjoyable every time you go out on the stage to perform your act in Quidam?
The jump rope act in Quidam is performed by about 20 people, it’s really a colourful and very energetic act. I really enjoy working with a big group of people, it’s always a challenge to be synchronized since there are so many of us on stage at the same time, doing very different things… you can find high level acrobatics, incredible speed, crazy tricks, double Dutch, single rope, and so on, whatever is possible in the creative world of Cirque. And of course, the music… as in every Cirque show, in Quidam as well, we have live music, the band is accompanying us. We always have to cooperate, with each other and with the musicians, they always keep an eye on how we are doing and they play the music accordingly. We have our little rituals before, during and after the show, which also adds to the atmosphere and creates a team spirit. Not to forget that I love jump rope, it’s a very creative and versatile sport with endless possibilities for new inventions.
Have you won any awards or competitions?
My background is 15 years of competitive jump rope. I am holding a current world record in consecutive triple unders and was awarded by the International Rope Skipping Federation with the title of “Outstanding Skipper” for my activities promoting and making jump rope a more popular sport all over the world. I also won
World Championships and 5 European Championships with the Hungarian National Jump Rope Team.
How do you like working together with other artists?
In Quidam, we have artists from 18 different countries, and it’s a unique experience to work together with people coming from different cultures, speaking different languages but sharing their passion for the same thing. Life in the arena tour is very special, it’s not only about working together. We basically spend most of our lives together, it’s like a big family, sharing a lot in common. And it changes the working relationship as well, I would say, we are really open to each others’ ideas, and knowing each other from very different sides, makes working together a really pleasant experience in a great atmosphere.
Tell us what the audience will see during your routine.
While watching the jump rope act, you can really expect to see a lot of characters, and colors on stage! To me it feels like a huge playground with lot of children, having fun jumping around!
You have to be ready for plenty of action! You can see a solo skipping routine, filled up with amazing tricks, choreographies that are absolutely synchronized with great music, acrobatics and quite a bit of acting. Of course, you will be able to see Double Dutch, long ropes, plenty of carefully selected routines, combining high level of coordination, acrobatics and team work. I can surely say that the skipping act is one of the most entertaining part of the show with great energy!
What kind of ropes are used?
We use different kinds of ropes in the skipping act. For the solo skipping part, we are using plastic ropes, it is what we would use in skipping competitions as well. But you can also see beaded ropes, used at some point on the stage for skipping in pairs, and for the Double Dutch and group routines we use cotton ropes, they give a nice image on stage.
What is the most difficult part of your routine? Do you improvise during your performance?
I do a rope release in my solo part, and that is a risky trick, but so far it has been working out really well, it requires a lot of concentration and very good timing. There is another part in the Double Dutch routine, where we have to focus a lot, because everything is happening really really fast, it’s a combination of turning skills and footwork at a very high speed.
It happens that we have to improvise, we are not always perfect. It comes with experience, you have to be able to find the best solution in the shortest possible time. It’s easier when you are doing a solo act, but when you are involved in a group act, it’s difficult to make everyone think of the same solution in case of a sudden change.
Sometimes we make mistakes, we are human…but as for my experiences, most of the time, it makes the show more interesting and it also reveals that what we are doing it is not that easy, even if we make it look easy most of the time, and this brings the appreciation from the audience as well.
What are some of your favorite Cirque moments and stories and memories?
Since we are not only doing our “main act” (skipping in my case) in the show, there are lot of side roles and characters, sometimes we have to bring some equipments onto the stage, dance or just walk around in a certain way, there are plenty of moments to remember. Of course, I love the skipping act, but let’s be a bit neutral… J
One of my favourite moment is during the hand-to-hand act, when being part of the penguin group, and then acting as a statue. It’s not a difficult role, but during this time, I have the chance to watch the show from stage, seeing how our hand-to-hand couple is giving secret signs to each other before going from one position to the next, and this time I can also have a look at the public and see the reaction on the faces, which is always a great feedback showing that the audience is amused by the show!
And of course, the other favourite is the clown act. It’s the artists’ entertainment as well, to see the audience getting a chance to come on stage and be part of the show, we always watch the clown acts backstage. So if you want to be part of the show, get your tickets close to the stage, you will have an amazing experience!
Of course, I remember some very funny moments as well… in the second half of the show, we do a bit of skateboarding… actually, laying on the skateboard on our belly… and moving forward with freestyle swimming arm strokes… once we reach the front of the stage we have to turn… well, when I did it for the first time, my skateboard did not really turn… so I ended up getting stuck on stage, trying to improvise swimming without the skateboard, just to keep up with the choreography, but I had to realize that I can’t go too far, and better make my way offstage on foot… of course, all the artists were laughing, but luckily it wasn’t that visible for the public. Anyway, I still get my comments before getting on the skateboard J
Anything strange ever happen to you while you were performing your routine?
It happens that the rope breaks during the act and we have to change the routine a bit, that’s not really something that I like, so I try to change my rope regularly to reduce the risk of breaking it, but it is not always possible to prevent such things.
What is your favorite routine in the show other than your own and why is it your favorite?
I really like my short dance routine before the Tissue act, it’s one of my favourites because of the choreography and also because we are connecting two acts. I find it a very nice transition between a funny clown act and a more artistic and serious aerial act.
How often do you train?
I train almost every day. We have two days off a week, which is very nice, it gives enough time for your body to recover and maybe do something totally different, go for a bike tour, discover the city. I prefer to exercise a bit on my days off as well, but normally I choose a different sport than skipping.
On show days, I train more with my rope, in our backstage area, we have all the equipments for circus arts and also for fitness trainings so normally the artists stay after finishing the show and work-out for another hour or so. Towards the end of the week, on two-show days, everyone is getting more tired, and actually doing the show itself, twice a day is quite a bit of training for most of us. Everyone has to know his limits and plan his training schedule accordingly. The priority is given to the shows, we have to do our best on stage and we adjust our trainings to that so we can be in our best shape when performing.
What do you do to keep yourself in such good shape?
I do a lot of conditioning, jump rope requires a very good cardio, so I often go running, do plenty of strengthening exercises, mostly for my legs, of course I train with my rope as well. Cirque is providing Pilates classes 3 times a week, so I often participate, and being a personal trainer myself, I love any form of fitness trainings.
Do you warm up before a show? How do you physically prepare for each performance?
Normally, I revise my skipping routine several times before entering the stage, that serves as a very intensive warm up both physically and mentally, so I can focus on every single detail and get ready in my head as well. A good warming up is increasing the level of the performance, I try to make sure that every time before I go on stage, I am absolutely ready to perform and did everything I could do to get my head focused on my routine. And I always keep in mind, that the only way the public is going to be entertained is if I show them how much I like what I am doing, that’s the main thing, if I am ready to convey the feeling that I have for my routine, the public is going to have fun together with me.
Do you enjoy traveling and being on the road?
I definitely enjoy travelling, and travelling with such a group is an absolute pleasure! It’s a special way of life, you get to see a lot and experience very different cultures. We spend a lot of time together with the cast of Quidam outside of the arenas, it’s nice to be part of a group and share our experiences not only as colleagues but also as friends.
What’s the best thing about being on the road and what’s the most difficult?
The best part of it is probably the experience, and all the information that you can absorb by visiting different places, getting to know some of the local people in every single corner of the world, seeing so much that it is impossible to learn from books and movies. J I really feel lucky because of this.
As for the difficult part, it’s a bit relative, for some people it is really demanding to be away from their family for a long time and not having a ‘real home’, living out from a suitcase, or maybe more than one suitcase J But I think it depends on your lifestyle. I find it easy to adjust to different environment, and I am used to being away from my family, even though we are keeping in touch and having a very good relationship. Every city is a new motivation, something else to discover, a different audience watching the show with different emotions, and we have to find the connection both with the place and with the people. It’s an experience for a lifetime!
What have been your favorite cities to visit so far?
I really enjoyed Atlantic Canada, great people, beautiful places and very friendly and supportive atmosphere!
Now that you are coming to DC, is there any place you are looking forward to seeing while you are here in DC?
As an English History and Literature teacher, I am really looking forward to explore as much as possible from the Nation’s Capital. I am definitely planning to visit the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian and of course the White House and the Capitol… as much as I can fit into my time.
Why should everyone in the DC area come and see you perform in Quidam?
You will experience so much by watching Quidam… it is a story of a young girl who is going through a difficult time in her life, just as it happens in our every-day world… it is an inspiration in so many different ways, a piece of creative art presented by using incredible abilities of people, accompanied by live music!
It is great for families, couples, young and old to get an insight into the world of magic and experience pure human performance with no limit.
Quidam plays November 16-20, 2011, at The Verizon Center – 601 F St NW, in Washington, DC. Purchase your tickets online.
Watch highlights from the ‘Rope Skippers Act’ from Cirque Du Soleil’s Quidam.