This Halloween season the club scene in Shanghai is going absolutely nuts, and Cirque Le Soir will not be exempt from the shenanigans. With parties raging on the Bund at their new club from tonight until Saturday evening, November 2nd, circus-goers will have an opportunity to experience the circus feat that is Cirque. Andrea Jones-Rooy, who works at an American university by day and as an aerialist by night, gave us an inside look into what life working at Cirque is like on a day-to-day basis.
Cirque is a new club in Shanghai but has a reputation and is well established in other places around the world. How is Cirque Le Soir’s vibe in Shanghai unique and different?
This is probably one I can’t speak to too well, having not been to the others. But, I know that there is a big effort to celebrate the local talent here. China, and Shanghai in particular, has a long tradition of acrobatics and circus performance, and no shortage of talented performers. Here, you can see a blend of some of the best international performers Cirque has to offer, as well as a celebration of the local tradition and talent here in Shanghai. Our performers are about half Chinese, half international. This means that backstage communication happens in a sea of English, Chinese, and even Russian!
What can we expect as club-goers when we come to this event? Is it non-stop performances or are there certain times where the circus like feats are happening?
Both, kind of – throughout the night we usually have two to three, sometimes four mainstage shows, where a performer or group of performers will come out and do something they do best, be it contortion, kung fu, sword swallowing, trapeze, burlesque, or even knife throwing. Alongside the MainStage shows, though, we have performers out throughout the club nonstop in different locations – on podiums, by the bar, out front, and even in a bird cage (my personal favorite). So no matter what time you come, you’re guaranteed to see something you’ve never seen before. But the main shows go on usually around 11 PM, 12 AM, and 1 PM, give or take.
How is the space set up – is the focus on the bar scene? Dancing? Circus performances? Lounge space? A mix of all of the above?
A mix. But mostly of lounge and dance. There’s a big emphasis on table reservations, and earlier in the night most people are sitting or socializing around reserved tables. By 1 AM, though, the dance floor is usually full. When performers aren’t on the MainStage, people can also dance up there. I think the idea is for people to move around the space and explore, rather than just hang out by the bar (though that happens, too, some).
It seems there is quite a camaraderie among the performers. How has it been working on a circus team but all still in a bar?!
Kind of awesome haha! I actually really love it. It really makes it a naturally social environment. We take turns – kind of like a lifeguard rotation – of going out to various “posts” around the space, usually for 15-20 minutes per location. When we rotate back through the dressing room for a rest we can share stories of what’s going on out there. Then, each night performances usually end around 3 AM and we are free to socialize with the customers. It’s fun to go out and dance with everyone after a night of performing (and usually with makeup leftovers still smeared on your face…. glitter NEVER comes off!).
I really love the people I work with. The backstage space itself is really rather small, so we’re quite social, despite language differences – sometimes we get google translate out, other times we gesture and guess! The performers are all very professional. Frankly I think I’m the newest to performing “professionally”. Many have performed for cirque in London and/or Dubai, and everyone else has performed elsewhere extensively. We all have pretty different skills, too, so I don’t sense competition. Overall, I think we all really admire each other, at least I do, and find that what we’re doing is so fun, and the space is so high energy, that we all get along pretty well. That said, things get hectic on busy nights so it’s not always the smoothest sailing, but that’s true with any production. We have two performers who are little people – not sure the PC term for that? – and they’re really talented dancers and performers. They’re also incredibly popular among the guests, and often get whisked away for photos and dancing. One of the more memorable things that happens because it’s a bar is that we sometimes lose them and have to make announcements, “Has anyone seen them?” over the loudspeaker.
Aside: I was really put off by Cirque having little people at first, feeling it was rather exploitive of them, but I’ve gotten to know them both, and I feel less guilty/uncomfortable about it. They are both from China, so we communicate in Chinese only, but they are really great people and seem fully willing and conscious performers – not exploitive like I first thought. That said, I am still mixed, and always wrestle with it. But I consider them friends, and love working with them.
So being an aerialist at Cirque Le Soir. How does that happen?!?!
I was a dancer when I was younger and always loved movement and artistic expression through it. In graduate school I happened to come across a brochure once for an “aerial yoga” school in Detroit (I went to U of Michigan for my Ph.D.). I started going, and fell in love with it. I went every Sunday for an hour and a half for a couple of years during my final stages of my dissertation. It kept me sane. After I finished grad school I taught at Carnegie Mellon, but went to NYC for long weekends for more aerial training. Finally, this summer before I moved to Shanghai, I had a couple of months where I was able to spend extended periods at a studio in Brooklyn called the Muse, where I specialized in trapeze and contortion.
I moved to Shanghai to be a post-doc at NYU Shanghai, and was looking for aerial schools so I could keep up my training. I found out that Cirque was opening, so emailed them some photos and videos of me on a whim, and they invited me in to audition one night, and then hired me! It all happened really fast – one day I was still looking for a place to take classes, and the next I was a paid performer. I couldn’t be more thrilled about it, and really love being a part of it. I was worried it would be hard to balance this with being a full time post-doc, and while I admit I’m a little sleep deprived and drink more red bull than I should (read: any at all), I find that the two complement each other more than I expected.
What’s the best story from a night working there so far? The worst/most awkward/most entertaining?
Oh man. Losing the little people was pretty funny to me (they weren’t hurt or anything). Another is that we used to make one of them, Jimmy, wear this huge panda suit. I don’t think we realized how hot it really was, and we had him out performing in the window, which is a space in the front of the club right when you enter. He is supposed to wave at people and sort of move around however he wants. We went back after 10 minutes or so and the poor guy was just lying face down on the ground – apparently it was so hot he couldn’t do anything. It also looked like Cirque had murdered a panda, which isn’t so good. He wasn’t injured or anything, but we learned we definitely need to modify his costume. Other funny stories are various costume malfunctions – sometimes we wear these huge, very cool, wings, and people step and trip on them constantly. I’ll be on my way to a podium and all of a sudden get jerked back because someone danced across my wings It’s a really weird problem to have! We also use sparklers a lot when we come out to do shows, and sometimes I forget I’m wearing, say, a giant feather headpiece and wave them around dangerously close to it. Another problem I didn’t even think it would be possible to have!
Why should people chose this place over the other Bund locations when they are debating their night plans? Does it cater to a certain crowd – groups, dates, singles, old creepy men?!
Haha, we do have some creepy old men, it’s true. I will say I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the crowds are reasonably mixed between Chinese and expats. I was expecting to be surrounded by a whole bunch of drunk expats exclusively. Now, I get a mix of drunk expats and Chinese citizens! I think it’s a fun place for groups. I went once on my own just as a guest and it’s fun if you’re ok dancing alone, but it’s not really a place for conversation. My recommendation: have a nice dinner and conversation first, THEN come to Cirque ready to dance. It’s a lot more fun when people are moving. For dates – hmm, not so sure. If you’re with a group, and someone in your group is someone you have a crush on, then yes. If it’s just two of you trying to get to know each other – again, have dinner (and a few drinks) first, then come!
Overall it’s not as creepy as I thought it could be – we are sometimes rather scantily clad – more so than I ever have performed before – and there’s always a risk of someone being inappropriate. It happens, but nothing too egregious (to my knowledge). And there’s tons of security around (with mixed effectiveness — also still learning the ropes I think). I think Cirque’s big goal is to not have this be a “come see naked girls” type place, but rather a place to come experience a 360 degree circus/freak/strange/boundary-pushing performance art type environment Most of the costumes I’m in, even if they don’t, uh, cover up a ton, are rarely “sexy” in any traditional sense. Sometimes they’re downright hideous (corpse bride, anyone?).
Personally, I’m really intrigued by what they’re doing. I have come to gradually be a part of the circus community in the US in recent years, and there has been a big “contemporary circus” movement worldwide, a sort of reclaiming of old circus, without the exploitation. I.e., the idea is it’s less freak show and spectacle, and animal abuse, and more an assortment of people who select into this community because they have some skill, or talent, or persona, or thing they want to express. And I’ve really been supporting this growth. I think the idea of Cirque le Soir (and I could be wrong, it’s just my view) is that rather than just put this modern, cool, interesting stuff up on a stage that people can only see if they buy a ticket and come to a formal show once in awhile, at Cirque you can just come through the doors and get a pretty rich taste of it all happening right around you.
Sorry if this is coming off like some big party line propaganda! I actually genuinely just really like it! I’m also super new, so it’s all very honeymoon phase for me right now.
Other things the Shanghaiist community should know about when thinking about their next night out and Cirque Le Soir in general?
I would say that if you’re out with friends and having a good time and looking for a place to really step things up, Cirque is an awesome choice for a memorable night. I love it when people come in who are obviously there to have a good time and enjoy their weekend. We feed off that energy, and hopefully give some back. It’s definitely different from the bigger nightclubs where there are multiple dance floors and stuff – it’s actually a rather small space. You’re never that far away from a performer. I think the word they use is “boutique” nightclub. If you’re looking for a lower key night, this might not be the spot unless you come early on. But I think if you live in Shanghai full time and want something different, it’s a great choice. If you’re just visiting, I also say it’s worth checking out for a look at the local and international talent that’s here. Plus it’s on the Bund and the views are great when you go in and out.
Cirque Le Soir, 4F, 22 Zhongshan Dong Lu, near Jinling Lu, Bund area. (中山东路22号4楼, 近金陵路). Hours: Wed-Sat, 9pm-4am, Sun-Tues private events. Tel: (0)21-400-991-00-88. Closest metro: Yu Garden, line 10.
By Charlotte Evans
Charlotte is a food and lifestyle contributor to Shanghaiist.