Cirque du Soleil is in town and setting up at Royal Farms Arena. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)
Even though she's been doing it for a few years now, moving 100 people and 20 truckloads of equipment and supplies into a new town almost every week is a feat Heather Reilly never takes for granted.
Which is why, every time she spearheads the roadshow version of Cirque du Soleil's move to a new city, she takes a minute to climb into the cheap seats and savor the intricacies that make it all happen.
"To literally go up into the bleachers and up into the seats, the highest point, and just sit and watch what happens — to me, it's absolutely fascinating," says Reilly, the company manager for Cirque's "Ovo" show since 2007. "There's always a point that looks really chaotic, but with a couple of orchestrated moves — bam, it's there. It's really quite amazing."
"Amazing" is a word that comes quite naturally to Cirque du Soleil, which will be performing at Baltimore's Royal Farms Arena through Sunday. For "Ovo," a show that takes its inspiration from the insect world, about 50 lithe-limbed and astonishingly athletic performers will swing, spring, cavort and seemingly fly their way throughout the arena.
Setting up inside an arena like Baltimore's takes between eight and 10 hours, Reilly says. And that's on top of the time it takes to move from the previous city — in this case, Fairfax, Va., where "Ovo" closed Sunday night.
"Usually, we're in the next city on Tuesday, to open on Wednesday," Reilly says. At least Baltimore, she notes, is relatively close to Fairfax, about 55 miles, so moving by truck is practical. "There are times when we have to charter commercial flights," Reilly says, which usually means the travel doesn't start until the day after a show closes.
Although Cirque has been visiting Baltimore for more than a decade — before settling in at the arena, shows were put on under big tops set up in Canton, Fells Point and other locations — this year's show marks something of a turning point. With spring's closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Cirque is now the big circus in town. And as astonishing as Cirque and its performers might be, will it be able to take the place of traditional circuses, with their lions and tigers and elephants?
Reilly, for one, thinks the resolutely animal-free Cirque will do just fine.
"Our style of circus is becoming a little bit more familiar to people," she says. "They may not have seen Cirque per se … but there are so many circus acts on the television, on reality shows — 'America's Got Talent,' those sorts of things — that it's not quite as foreign to them. I think our form of circus has really transformed the performing arts, maybe not to the point of becoming mainstream, but becoming more accessible to people."
Besides, she notes, it's not as if "Ovo" is entirely devoid of animals.
"I work with a show that has 50 bugs on stage," Reilly says with a laugh. "Everybody's an insect, the biggest crickets you've ever seen. God forbid we should have a plague of these."
If you go
Cirque du Soleil's "Ovo" runs through Sunday at Royal Farms Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. through Saturday, 4 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $38-$153. royalfarmsarena.com.