Once upon a time in New York City, a girl with a big dream walks into Starbucks.
While waiting for her order, she notices a pull tab advert and reads: “Private aerial classes with former Cirque du Soleil artist”. Totally intimidated but excited, she is calling the number.
The girl already knows that she is going to sneak out of her dance school classes. She knows that the new chapter in her life starts right here, right now. But what she does not know is that eventually she will be performing difficult trapeze acts flying through the air with a perfect grace.
Today Elizabeth Williams is a 27-year-old aerialist at Cirque du Soleil and a charming woman smiling with her lips, her eyes and her whole spirit. She is also that ambitious girl who fell in love with Cirque aged 13 and has had a genuine talent in gymnastics from the age of four. “I knew it was what I had to do with my life,” says Elizabeth. “There was more to the tumblers than the ‘perfect ten’ qualities of a gymnast. They were artists. Dancers. Movers. Characters.”
I cannot argue with her. Once you watch one of the magnificent shows, you realise: Cirque du Soleil is the circus worth running away with. So the young gymnast promptly came to her first ballet class with her “chin way too high”, as she admits, laughing.
After years of hard work, Elizabeth was accepted to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre study programme so that one day she could be brave enough to call the right number and discover her passion for heights. “The strength and coordination of a gymnast with lines and precision of a dancer, aerial work is where I wanted, needed to be!” exclaims Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s dreams came true when she decided to audition for Cirque
Being diversely skilled, she auditioned for Cirque in Las Vegas as a generalist acrobat. First in the group, with a big pin-on number one, Elizabeth successfully completed acrobatics, dancing and acting with six stages. She, who never touched a trapeze in her life, was cast to perform a Triple Trapeze act in the Varekai show.
“It felt like you could do anything after completing those challenges,” remembers Elizabeth. “Under pressure with the scrutinising looks you just had to do it. Drop your fears and inhibitions and do it.” Cirque’s auditioning motto “Expect the unexpected” soon became an everyday reality for her – magical yet demanding.
Circus life can be both exciting and difficult – but never boring
“Circus has taken me all over the world. Such a beautiful and eye-opening blessing,” says Elizabeth. She took her first contract in Singapore and has since been with tours in Brazil, Australia, Japan, Russia and many other countries.
However, constant travel with the circus can be exhausting both mentally and physically. The acrobat tells me about her extreme homesickness. “I’m tired of missing things,” sighs Elizabeth. “Weddings, funerals, birthdays, holidays… It never gets easier to walk away from my family at the airport terminal.” She also admits that not a day goes by when her body does not ache.
It comes as no surprise after Elizabeth described her intense training at Cirque’s headquarters in Montreal: “A lot of hours, bruised skin, ripped hands and conditioning. But beyond this familiarity came the vocal lessons and acting which definitely pushed my comfort zones.” She mentions her experiments with workout and dieting plans depending on the strength and range of motion required.
Elizabeth prefers her role in the Totem show over Varekai where she performed Triple Trapeze
For Elizabeth, the hardest stunt was Triple Trapeze, a group act of four female acrobats on one bar, due to almost unpredictable conditions. She explains: “Change in humidity would cause the bar to be slippery. One of the girls having a bad day would cause the ropes to swing out of sync. Communication had to be subtle but very clear to coordinate bodies in space and time.”
This is probably why Elizabeth enjoyed her role in Totem show more whereas her favourite Cirque shows to watch are legendary Quidam and Alegria. The acrobat says that she is greatly motivated to improve her technique because “it offers effortlessness, comfort and ease” while performing under the big top.
Elizabeth remains an optimist who truly dedicates herself to her passion
“When you step into that big top tent, you dream,” she smiles. “The music fills your whole body, you are surrounded by actors, impeccable lighting and then the crazy acrobatics start.”
Music inspires Elizabeth the most and she cannot survive a day without her small iPod, “ideal for someone hanging and twisting upside down”, as she laughs.
Circus becomes home away from home for the acrobats living like a one big family
Her YouTube channel is filled with videos of Cirque’s team singing and dancing backstage. Elizabeth thinks that it is crucial to have some fun while working under pressure. “Imagine 40 circus performers in one tent many hours a day. If you care to observe, you begin to know your workmates almost better than family,” she says.
Some of them actually became a family: last year Elizabeth got married to Guilhem Cauchois, a specialist Cirque acrobat. “So, we fell in love on top of the world!” exclaims Elizabeth telling about their vacation in Tibet.
Now both performers are taking separate contracts, but not giving up on their dynamic relationships. Elizabeth’s husband is joining her on tour with Amaluna in South America, although keeping his own Duo Fixed Trapeze act alive. “We are willing to sacrifice and bend our careers but certainly not our relationship,” says Elizabeth confidently.
Show must go on!
Elizabeth is constantly looking for self-improvement and currently performing her new own specialty Aerial Straps act in Amaluna.
She also intends to continue with choreographing and sharing her exceptional skills with others. “Beyond circus and the near future where I plan to push and use my body while I still can, I’m laying the foundation to transfer to the creative side of performing arts,” reveals Elizabeth. “It’s an equal passion of mine to help shape another artist – not just my own art.”
Follow for more on Elizabeth’s Instagram: elizabethannwilliams