Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008 | Walking into the inner recesses of Cirque du Soleil’s blue and yellow big top is like walking into a cliché. Acrobats are flinging themselves against trampolines and soaring through the air. A tiny woman walks past a gigantic man, at least seven feet tall, who’s teaching magic tricks to a group of star-struck children. Squat, gymnastic men with overdeveloped biceps prop themselves on parallel bars, swinging and arcing their legs.
Inside the big top itself, Marie-Michelle Faber, wrapped in a scarf and wooly sweater, perched herself on one of the thousands of blue seats and answered questions as a sound check threw clownish noises and circus music into the chilly dome of the tent.
Faber, who comes from a Quebecoise family of athletes and performers, is the principal female vocalist and performs an aerial acrobatics act on three giant chandeliers for Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo show, running at the Del Mar fairgrounds through Feb. 17. We sat down with her in the big top to ask her about her diet, her makeup, and whether people ever ask her to swing from chandeliers at dinner parties.
How long does it take you to put on your makeup for the show?
It depends on the mood I’m in. Usually I take 20-25 minutes, maximum, because I like to take my time and make really defined lines and everything. But sometimes, if I’m in a rush, I can do it in 10 minutes.
Do the whole Cirque du Soleil crew hang out together? Do you go out and have fun as a group?
There are a lot of people that do that. They do hang out together but in my job it’s very difficult to do that, because I work physically on the chandeliers and I’m a singer too. I use my vocal chords and it’s very aggressive on my inner ears, so at the end of the show, whether it’s one or two shows a day, I just shut off. I just go home and rest.
How did you end up in Corteo, what was your career path?
Every path for every artist is very different. In my path, I’m very happy where I am now. I was on Quidam with Cirque de Soleil for five years, in and out. I was on an aerial hoop in Quidam. I did that for a good five years, and then I did the “tissue,” the aerial silk contortion, in Quidam too. That was a solo act, so I did an improvement, in my view, of coming from a group act to a solo act.
Then I quit that and came here and created a new show from the start. That was another improvement, then becoming a singer in the show, I couldn’t have asked for better.
So which talent came first, the singing or the gymnastics?
Gymnastics. I started at the age of five. I did that for 12 years. I also did high diving and a lot of coaching and judging in gymnastics. That was my part-time job. Some people go and work in McDonalds, but that was what I did, coaching and judging competitions.
Over the years, you must have hurt yourself, what’s been your worst injury?
I’m very lucky, I knock on my head (she knocks on her head and then on the floor beneath her seat) I never had a really big injury. My worst was before stopping gymnastics, my two ankles, I sprained them, one second-degree and one third-degree sprain, both at the same time.
That was like the end of my career. I was 17. I wasn’t out of action because I was so young and, you know, you just want to go again. I think I was out a good three months and then I started high-diving because there was less impact on my ankles.
You must be very careful about what you eat. What’s your diet like?
Cirque de Soleil doesn’t have strict rules for us, but I do it for myself because I want to perform well and sing well. Just for the singing, it’s so important to not take too much milk or cheese, you know. At the intermission I can’t take a cookie, you know.
I don’t take butter, I take coconut oil and I drink a lot of water, I’m always carrying a bottle of water. After the show, when I come home, I’m often hungry and I try not to eat munchies at the end of the show.
Besides practicing on the chandeliers, what else do you do to keep fit, to keep healthy?
The tissue, the aerial silk, because I miss it a lot from Quidam. Like today, I came here early and I checked the schedule of everyone, so I didn’t interfere with any training, then I hung my tissue and did an hour. I do a little jogging.
While the show is in San Diego, have you done any surfing?
I would love to, but I have to be careful with my ears, wearing my earpieces is like wearing an iPod for five hours every day.
If you had to lose either of your talents, either singing or gymnastics, which one would you chose?
Oh, I can’t! No no, no! Oooh, wow, no! Replace something, OK, but I can’t. Well, at the age I am, I’m 29, I know that in a couple of years or maybe 10 years, I want to give myself another push physically and I know I have to stop in order to stay healthy, physically, because overstretching all the time, it can affect you physically.
So I would say, my abilities physically. Because I can sing all my life.
Are there other performers, other gymnasts that have inspired you?
My brother. He’s with Cirque du Soleil also, with Wintuk, the new show in New York. He’s so multi-talented too. He does the backup act on the show, where he manipulates a giant cube, and next year he’s going to sing too.
When you meet people at dinner or out with friends, how do people normally react when you tell them you’re in Cirque du Soleil?
Most of them are like “Oh my gosh! Cirque du Soleil.” They’re usually excited and so happy to meet someone from Cirque, it’s like having an interview, they start asking “How did you start?” And la la la. I like it.
When you are out, do people ever ask you to perform for them?
It’s been almost 10 years I’ve been with Cirque but my parents will find new things from Cirque and say “Try that.” I’m like, “Can I have a break? I have a week off, come on!”
Between the cities, I just want to rest. It happens sometimes, but now they are more respectful.
So have you ever been asked to swing from somebody’s chandeliers?
No, because I don’t go out very often.
— Interview by WILL CARLESS