CEDAR RAPIDS — Michael and JoAnn Cervantes have traveled to New Orleans, Connecticut, Canada, Germany and England to see their daughter, Erin, perform her circus artistry with various troupes.
This week, the circus has come to town.
The “extremely proud” parents will have a short commute from Bertram to downtown Cedar Rapids to watch Erin, 39, swing from a chandelier and spin in a metal Cyr hoop every day, as part of Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo” extravaganza in the U.S. Cellular Center arena. The show launched Wednesday and continues through Sunday, with a total of seven performances.
JoAnn Cervantes, who has been baking cookies and cupcakes for Erin and her show family, will be holding her breath as her lithe and limber daughter twists and turns for 6.5 minutes high above the stage — with no net underneath.
It’s all in a day’s work for Erin and the other three aerialists who will dance their way through three chandeliers draped with 4,000 acrylic beads over a metal infrastructure. The women will grab the bars and beads with their hands, legs and feet as the elaborate structures rise 19 feet in the air, twirling and moving from side to side.
Shortly thereafter, Erin will return to the stage with her hands and feet planted inside a metal hoop spinning on the ground like a gyroscope.
Long before the glitz and glamour unfolds for the spellbound audiences, the space backstage is abuzz with activity.
Acrobats jump on the show’s large metal-framed beds with trampoline mattresses. Sewing machines whir in a nearby room as the costume crew stitches, mends, irons and steams elaborate costume pieces. They also keep the makeup cabinet stocked with base colors, eye shadows, rouge, sponges and other tools of the trade, and a shoe specialist keeps the footwear performance-ready.
Between the stage and loading docks lies a row of six washers and two dryers for the daily upkeep of clothing and costumes. Behind the machines, one cast member works out on a huge treadmill while another grabs an upright apparatus to maintain his upper body conditioning.
Technicians and crew members are working through their own opening night checklists.
Clad in workout wear, Erin Cervantes arrived at the arena at 1:25 p.m. Wednesday to begin stretching first with resistance bands, then on floor mats tucked offstage. At 2 p.m., she and her three castmates and one understudy reported to center stage so the chandeliers could be set at the proper heights for each woman’s reach. With the structures hovering low to the ground, the aerialists climbed aboard to get a feel for the performing space.
Thirty minutes later, the chandeliers swung into their places offstage, and a group of acrobats moved through their rehearsal, snapping a couple of selfies along the way.
The huge visual and aural production is packed into 700 road cases and loaded onto 20 semis to travel from city to city. The costumes alone fill 1.5 semis.
Crew members outnumbers cast, 58 to 52, representing 22 nationalities in all. Even the six musicians speak four different native languages. While everyone else calls the adjacent DoubleTree by Hilton home for the week, Erin Cervantes has the luxury of sleeping in her own bed, snuggling her 18-year-old cat, Simon, and filling up on home cooking like barbecued chicken, baked beans and deviled eggs.
She arrived at 1 a.m. Monday from the previous gig in St. Louis. By 8 a.m. Tuesday, was on the air at the KZIA-FM 102.9 radio station in southwest Cedar Rapids. After a quick stop at home for a Gazette interview and photos — complete with cookies and cat snuggles — she and her folks were heading to the store to prepare a brunch for some of Erin’s castmates.
Mike and JoAnn Cervantes are happy to return the food favors, since they’ve eaten lots of international cuisine with the cast on other stops. The couple are known to the group now.
“If we go backstage, everybody will say hi to us,” Mike Cervantes said. “After a while, they know who we are. We’ve had lunch with the cast. We’ve had food that we never thought we’d have,” like oxtail, duck and rabbit.
It’s a life Erin didn’t imagine when she moved to Los Angeles in 2002, and five years later followed a friend to a circus class on a whim. But she grew up immersed in the performing arts, with her father being a longtime high school drama director and actor on local stages.
“Always being in the theater with him from a very early age, it was just really normal — a very comfortable place for me to be — in the theater,” Erin Cervantes said. “I just had to figure out where I fit in within the performing world. And for some reason, it was the circus.”
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