Two men on either end of a teeterboard, a simple wooden contraption that resembles a seesaw, alternately spring upward in a roomy circus tent. Their leaps lengthen after each landing—5ft, 10ft, 15 ft—until the rhythm is broken by an airborne somersault, and a few seconds later, a swift double somersault.

A few hours before Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil’s debut performance in Mumbai, the backstage is bustling. Acrobats turn focus on pre-show stretches, wardrobe assistants arrange neon wigs on a compact shelf, and costume and make-up transformations begin, adding colour and character to the blur of figures and faces. Meanwhile, on the “Blue Mat", a space for artists to work out and unwind, a break-dancer indulges a huddle of cameras with an impromptu routine, while a bemused crew member hurries past mumbling, “That’s performers for you".

This heightened energy in a compact space befits Bazzar, Cirque du Soleil’s 43rd original production, and the first to premiere outside of Canada. According to show director Susan Gaudreau, the production, which took two years to complete, is a throwback to the company’s early days. In 1984, Cirque du Soleil co-founders, Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, secured government funding for their modest troupe of 20 street performers who went on to reinvent the make of a circus act. Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil, an yearlong tour of various cities in Quebec presented a “nouveau cirque"—acrobatic acts that prioritized performance, technique and design without the use of animals and standard-issue clowns. Since then, the troupe has expanded into a global live entertainment company with 4,000 employees, including 1,400 artists from nearly 50 countries. Their scope of work has expanded to include multimedia productions, immersive experiences, and an upcoming theme park.

Artists backstage.
Artists backstage.

But Bazzar alludes to simpler beginnings. The two-hour show features a comical Maestro with well-defined shoulder pads directing a colourful acrobatic troupe, while facing glitches caused by a trickster woman. Indian elements in the production are limited to the title and the two mallakhamb acts, in keeping with Cirque’s approach of creating shows that can travel across countries and cultures, and “articulate in a way that is universally understandable".

According to Finn Taylor, senior vice-president of touring shows for Cirque du Soleil, the company has been contemplating a suitable way to enter the Indian market for a few years now. “We wanted to introduce the brand appropriately to this new audience that was never exposed to Cirque du Soleil before," he says.

Bazzar does feel like a tentative introduction—the production is humbler in ambition and scale than the company’s more iconic shows such as O, The Beatles Love and Ka, but also more affordable. Performed in an intimate 1,500-seater Big Top tent 62ft high and 135ft in diameter, Bazzar plays out like a slick montage of Cirque’s signature performances—unnerving trapeze acts, energetic pyro routines and dizzying rollerblading.

After more than two decades, these physical feats still manage to evoke awe and disbelief, and some degree of dread that is not entirely unwarranted. Earlier this year, aerialist Yann Arnaud, who had worked with the company for more than a decade, died after suffering a 50ft fall during a live performance of Volta in Florida.

Artists rehearsing for the teeterboard act. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar
Artists rehearsing for the teeterboard act. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar

In an effort to maintain safety and quality standards, this contemporary circus travels with its familiar ecosystem for touring shows. “It is like a mobile village that includes one large entrance tent, a VIP tent, the artistic tent, a kitchen, offices and more. The production material for the Bazzar tour travels via 25 sea containers, carrying close to 700 tonnes of equipment," says Gaudreau.

Bazaar offers a promising teaser for Cirque’s full-fledged landing in South Asia and Africa. Next year, the company will premiere its first resident show in China, titled X (The Land Of Fantasy), while Bazzar will travel to the Middle East and Greece. “Our long-term objective is to establish a strong and lasting presence in India with our large-scale productions," says Taylor. “For now, we are here to learn and see what touches, excites and entertains the Indian population."

Bazzar will be performed between 15 November and 9 December in Mumbai and 25 December and 6 January in Delhi. Tickets available on Bookmyshow.com

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