‘CRYSTAL’ dazzles with interdisciplinary amazement

Photo By Olivier Brajon | Courtesy of Cirque Du Soleil | Multiple jumps, throws and stunts left the audience on the edge of their seats and holding their breath, waiting for performers to return safely to the ground.

Emily Fritz | A&E Editor

As if moving around with knives on your feet wasn’t already dangerous enough, add acrobatics and dramaturgy. Cirque du Soleil has once again pushed the boundaries of live performance, bringing their multi-discipline show back to Pittsburgh.

‘CRYSTAL,’ which originally debuted in 2017, placed seven circus acts on the rink of PPG Paints Arena from Jan. 18 to 24.
The show follows Crystal, a young girl frequently chastised for her mystified perspectives and imaginative interpretations of the world, who falls through the ice of a frozen pond and finds herself in a mirrored reality where her creativity can roam free.

Guided by her Reflection, she is able to push the regular boundaries of her home life, her peers at school and her ambitions for finding love.

“‘CRYSTAL’ really pushes the boundaries of possibility within the circus arts. The show highlights Cirque du Soleil’s creativity in a new way and encourages audiences to find the magic of the everyday,” said Artistic Director Robert Tannion in a news release. “Every time you watch, there’s something new to see and experience.”

The cast consist of experts rooted in ice skating who learned to navigate the world of acrobatics with illusive ease, and those who hail from the world of acrobatics who have been required to gracefully master the ice.

“Doing a quick change with a pair of blades is not the easiest thing,” said performer Shawn Sawyer. “So we do have little tricks in our costumes to make it a little easier on us.”

Sawyer boasts an impressive resume as an Olympic figure skater with an expertise in backflips and an unmatched flexibility. His strengths play perfectly into his role as a quirky, standoffish businessman.

To accommodate quick changes, the performers have zippers that run from ankle to ankle along the inside seam. The skates themselves are equipped with toe picks for the figure skaters and curved blades for cast members that show-off speed and agility.

“It’s a really beautiful merging [of disciplines] and I think they learn from each other,” said Artistic Director Crystal Manich.

Although flying through the air and gliding on the ice is a focal point of the larger performance, ‘CRYSTAL’ also showcases juggling, hockey, tap dance, synchronized dance and live musical performances.

Boasting a 50-year repertoire, Cirque du Soleil has cultivated a team of more than 4,000 employees worldwide, with 1,200 artists representing six continents and 86 countries.

“We are one of the greatest companies in the world because we do attract so many people from around the world,” said Manich. “The culture here is wonderful because we have people from different cultural backgrounds, countries and different languages being spoken on tour. I think it really adds to the overall cohesion of the group.”

“I love sharing the ice,” added Sawyer. “[In the Olympics] I had the entire ice surface to myself, but now if I had the entire ice to myself, I would feel almost naked.”

Adding to the immersive display, are hundreds of elaborate costuming pieces, including skate covers, wigs, coats, scarves, hats and gloves alongside the usual tops and bottoms.

In lieu of makeup artists, performers are required to dedicate months in Montreal to learning a standardized makeup regime for their characters, making multiple Crystals indistinguishable between scenes.

Between the costuming, the artistry of each act and the abstract plot, an audience member couldn’t possibly bore from witnessing the show return to Pittsburgh ice.

The interactive entertainment invites viewers to throw snowballs and become enchanted with Crystal’s outlandish and spellbinding world.

Despite the show celebrating its seventh birthday this year, there will always be something new to witness regardless of how many performances one attends.

“There is more detail than you would realize at first viewing,” Manich said. “But the throughline is really Crystal’s journey and I think that that comes through even if the stage is really busy.”