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Setting the stage for Cirque du Soleil at Gwinnett arena

Staff Photo: John Bohn
Performer Jonathan Morin of Montreal, Canada, rehearses his act with Cirque du Soleil during a rehearsal session Wednesday. Cirque du Soleil begins a run of performances at the Arena at Gwinnett Center beginning Wednesday evening.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Performer Jonathan Morin of Montreal, Canada, rehearses his act with Cirque du Soleil during a rehearsal session Wednesday. Cirque du Soleil begins a run of performances at the Arena at Gwinnett Center beginning Wednesday evening.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Lorant Markocsany of Hungary, a performer with Cirque du Soleil, takes part in a rehearsal session Wednesday. Cirque du Soleil begins a run of performances at the Arena at Gwinnett Center beginning Wednesday evening.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Tara Pandeya, in the role of "Goddess of Water" with Cirque du Soleil, takes part in a rehearsal session Wednesday. Cirque du Soleil begins a run of performances at the Arena at Gwinnett Center beginning Wednesday evening.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Performers with Cirque du Soleil rehearse on trampolines during a rehearsal session Wednesday. Cirque du Soleil begins a run of performances at the Arena at Gwinnett Center beginning Wednesday evening.

DULUTH -- Today through Sunday, the Arena at Gwinnett Center has Cirque du Soleil's Dralion taking stage -- and air.

Things are very different behind the scenes at any show, and there is no exception here. Performers practice in street clothes with almost flawless precision without music or make-up.

The entire stagging takes 10 hours to set up, from the lighting all the way down to where the trampolines sit. When the show is ready to move, workers disassemble the creation in two to three hours during the night.

This is a very different story than the traditional Cirque big top tent. That takes a total of 14 days to build and take down. It could be more or less, depending on the city and lot location.

"It's nice to have the arena as an option because we can present the show to more cities and smaller areas," said Michael Veilleux, Dralion's tour manager. "If we had big top, we wouldn't be able to come to Duluth. The audience here really appreciated not driving far to see the show."

There are a total of 23 technicians who tour with the performers year-round. At each city, the group hires about 100 local workers to help with the stage.

"It would be hard to retrain new people about our complex set," Veilleux said. "That's why we keep the permanent staff and hire others as we travel. The venues usually have great contacts that we use, too."

The crew puts together the circular stage, which protrudes into the audience. In the stage hides a smaller cylinder that rises from the floor with hydraulics. They also construct the focal point of the set: a 60-foot-wide, 26-foot-tall aluminum wall that the performers walk on, dive from and exhibit other acrobatic tricks.

If you look at the wall from the front, it looks completely flat. In reality, it is curved, making wall dives more difficult. The trampoline performers need to jump from various angles to land safely on the platform.

No matter what act the performers are executing, they are all skilled professionals from all over the world. On this tour, there are 26 Chinese performers. In all, 14 nationalities are represented and the countries represented include Spain, the United States, Canada, Russia and more. The language on set is always English because it is the most common language among the entire crew.

Cirque du Soleil finds the performers in a range of different ways.

"Sometimes they come to us through our website," Veilleux said. "Sometimes we find their YouTube videos and others are spotted in international competitions like the Olympics. We once hired a street performer because he was an amazing juggler."

After each show, separate groups of acts watch the previous appearances to tweak the routines and fix any flaws they think need to be eliminated from the performance.

This helps Dralion constantly evolve and grow. The show can be noticeably different from opening day to the performance.

This is a family-friendly show suitable for all ages. Children love the colors and characters, especially the clowns who come out as comic relief.

"The clown numbers are hilarious," Veilleux said. "It's funny when you hear the kids laugh because they laugh at a higher pitch. When we watch from the side and listen to the kids laugh, it's funny to hear at the moment they giggle because it's different than the adults."

The show lasts approximately two and a half hours.