Before the artistic director for the Cirque du Soleil production of "Amaluna" heard of the famed acrobatic troupe in the mid 1990s, he already thought he had the best job in the world as the stage manager of "The Phantom of the Opera" on London's West End.
But Mark Pawsey's very first look at Cirque's production of "Satimbanco" at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996 changed him forever -- and he's hoping "Amaluna" will do the same for audiences under the big top outside of the Mall of America in Bloomington starting next week.
"When I went to my first Cirque performance, I couldn't speak for 20 minutes afterwards," Pawsey told me in a recent call from Brazil, where he was vacationing before the "Amaluna" hits the Twin Cities. "I had been transported to this place that I had never been before, and was in a world that I never knew before existed. So, I decided I needed to work for company."
While Pawsey heartily welcomes back anybody who has seen Cirque before -- whether here or anywhere else in North America or abroad -- he can't wait for the reaction of Cirque first-timers with "Amaluna."
"The reason we do this is for the people who have never seen Cirque before. Hopefully they'll be inspired and encouraged to dream," said Pawsey, who started with the company in 1998. "I hope we'll be able to bring something to people that use in their everyday life that can help them be better human beings."
That's not to say Pawsey doesn't care about Cirque's previous audiences. He said the bar has been set higher, quite literally for "Amaluna" because despite the amount of success a company like Cirque can achieve, it still must maintain a high level of creativity to continue to engage its audiences.
"I think you have to change because you have an audience whose expectations have been fulfilled by previous shows," Pawsey said. "You have a responsibility to give them something they haven't seen before, and that's really challenging."
Playing here Sept. 26 to Oct. 20, "Amaluna" takes place at a mysterious island that is governed by Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. It is there were Queen Prospera directs her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony -- a rite that honors femininity, renewal, rebirth and balance, marking the passing of insights and values from one generation to the next.
See a preview of "Amaluna" below.
For "Amaluna," one of the several changes Pawsey made from prior Cirque productions was a huge shift in the cast.
"We have many different ways of approaching things with 'Amaluna,' like having 75 percent of the cast made up of women, which is unique in itself," Pawsey said. "Usually it's the other way around and more male-dominated."
Plus, he said, there will be an uneven bars routine at the end of the first act -- something Cirque has never done before.
"Those are done with what we call 'Amazons' -- fierce, warrior-like gymnasts who are on this creative structure that incorporates the old, uneven bars act with a new one," Pawsey said. "As gymnastics championships have developed, so has equipment, so we've incorporated that."
Also new is a huge water bowl with "gallons and gallons" of water, plus, the artistic director enthused, audiences can expect a huge surprise in the second act.
"I don't want to say too much, but it's really a simple balancing act unlike anything you've seen before," Pawsey said.
Pawsey said the big top structure at the MOA seats exactly 2,561 people, which he believes is the perfect-sized venue for the production.
"That way the show remains really intimate," Pawsey said. "If you go into a theater, sometimes there are only 1,800 seats, but some of the audience members can feel quite back if it's a proscenium theater. But with the big top, we present it like theater in the round, so no member of audience is that far away from the stage. Everybody has their own unique perspective."
Plus, Pawsey said, in one instance the troupe members get even closer to the audience.
"In one act, they come out of each side of the audience, so it feels like a fourth dimension," Pawsey said. "It's an aerial act that thrills wherever you sit."
Where: Under the big top outside of the Mall of America
When: Sept. 26 through Oct. 20
Tickets: Available on the Cirque du Soleil website.