Behind the scenes at Cirque du Soleil's debut in Cornwall

Janice Robinson, Cornwall facilities rental co-ordinator at the civic complex. Photo on Thursday, June 6, 2019, in Cornwall, Ont. Todd Hambleton/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Todd Hambleton / Todd Hambleton/Standard-Freeholder

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Cirque du Soleil premiering an international show in Cornwall?

Now that’s a big deal.

And it’s a professional highlight for Janice Robinson, the city’s facilities rental co-ordinator at the civic complex for the last 22 years.

The recent announcement about the show, Robinson said, was the culmination of two years of meetings with representatives of Cirque du Soleil, which has its headquarters in Montreal.

“They came here (numerous times) and met with us on site,” Robinson said of the talks, that included large files of engineering diagrams and charts. “We had to come up with a plan on how we were going to make this fit.”

In a small preview of the new show, AXEL, which she viewed on Skype, Robinson said “even just the lighting, what I saw was jaw-dropping. . . it will transform the building, people won’t recognize the (arena) whatsoever.”

Robinson said that from a concert perspective, the show Nickelback headlined back in February 2004 was her “absolute highlight. .  .this (Cirque show) absolutely takes it to the next level.”

The announcement Cirque du Soleil would premiere its new show, AXEL, at the civic complex – marking the first time the world-famous entertainment group would perform in Cornwall – was made in late May.

Cirque du Soleil AXEL is being described as a unique experience showcasing world-class acrobatic skating performances set in fantastical universes and combining full-spectrum visual effects and live music that integrates popular songs with new original scores.

“We will offer a truly electrifying experience to all audiences, pushing the boundaries of creativity,” said Daniel Fortin, Cirque du Soleil vice-president, creation.

AXEL was created to tour in arenas around the world, and it hits the ice for the first time in Cornwall, on Oct. 4-5, before stops in several U.S. cities.

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The Oct. 4 show is on a Friday night at 7:30 p.m., with the performance the next day at 3:30 p.m. Ticket sales have been brisk. The arena seating configuration for the show will have a capacity of 3,000. As of June 6, there were about 500 seats left for each show.

The Cirque du Soleil crew will move into the building – and pretty much take it over – on Sept. 15. There’ll be 150 employees, with rehearsals going on for three weeks. The main concourse hallway at the civic complex will remain open to the public, and the municipal offices will stay open, but from Sept. 15 to Oct. 7, the arena, arena concourse and all meeting rooms including the salons “will be completely booked by (the show),” Robinson said.

Janice Robinson, the the citys facilities rental co-ordinator at the civic complex, with some of the plans and charts from her Cirque du Soleil file. Photo on Thursday, June 6, 2019, in Cornwall, Ont. Todd Hambleton/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Todd Hambleton / Todd Hambleton/Standard-Freeholder

Even long-time tenants, the Cornwall Jr. A Colts, will have to make way for Cirque du Soleil, moving over to the Benson Centre for practices, and playing on the road for a few weeks.

“(Colts owner) Ian MacInnis and the Colts have been very understanding, very accommodating,” Robinson said.

Logistically, the job of transforming the arena begins before Sept. 15.

“Before they arrive, everything from the ceiling has to come down – banners, speakers, the digital clock,” Robinson said.

She said it’s all logistically challenging, but civic complex operations supervisor Jason Lavallee has been on his job for over 20 years and will have everything under control. With some seats for the shows on the arena floor, the Zamboni, which will be stationed at the east end of the arena, won’t be able to leave the inside of the building to dump its snow, which is a logistical challenge.

But, “we have it figured out,’’ Robinson said with a wink. “We have a snow-dumping plan, we know what we’re going to do.”

This past winter, the city announced two major sports-related events coming to the civic complex, the Winter Blast cheerleading competition in February, and the 2020 men’s and women’s provincial curling championships.

Robinson said they were examples of how versatile the civic complex is for special events, and that “the building is just so affordable compared to major metropolitan markets. . . the service we provide is a factor, too. You become family when you walk into our venue. If we don’t have something you need, we’ll find it for you.”

thambleton@postmedia.com

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