French-born acrobat Ghislain Ramage is wheeling his way around the world with renowned circus troupe Cirque du Soleil, whose latest show, Kooza, opened in Brisbane last week. But far from running away and joining the circus, he started training at the age of six. Several years of circus school followed, culminating with three years at the prestigious Superior School of Circus in Brussels, where he learned his main apparatus – the Cyr wheel.
He has performed for Cirque du Soleil in Zarkana, Qidam and now Kooza, which pays homage to the traditions of circus, including clowning, with nods to Carnivale, the Day of the Dead, rock and roll and 1920s glamour. Here Ghislain offers his travel tips from a life spent travelling and performing around the planet.
Your main apparatus is the Cyr wheel – what is that?
It’s named after the first person that actually created an act with it – Daniel Cyr. It’s just a simple metal ring, human size. Mine is actually quite big – it’s two metres in size. I really try to work with the motion of the apparatus and see how it moves and really understand the physics of it so I can work with it instead of working against it. It’s more like a dance. If you want to dance with a partner, you’ve got to connect and understand how the other person moves or it’s not fluid.
What is your role in Kooza?
Here in Kooza, I’m doing every show, but every show can be different. I have a basic show where I do different acts with different characters, and twice a week I do a solo act with my wheel to keep it fresh and ready. I’m also the backup of the main clown of the show, the King character.
You have toured around the world. What has been your favourite place?
I would say every place is my favourite place! They’re all different. I really love South America – we were there the past seven months, and I visited some amazing places that I always dreamed of seeing. But being in Australia, it’s also a beautiful opportunity to see another place I always wanted to go to. I went to Asia and always I also love the culture there, everything about it. It’s hard to pick a favourite place.
Do you get much time off to explore?
Between cities we have one or two weeks. I have the option of going back home if I want to, but I can also take my backpack and travel around and visit the places around me.
What do you like to do when you arrive in a new city?
I love hiking. I always try to look for nice hikes to do around the city. In the city itself, I look for parks and nice neighbourhoods . I’m more of a wilderness person than a city person. I really like to take my bike and ride around the parks and I do a lot of photography, as well. I always try to find a beautiful spot to watch the sunset.
What would be your best hikes?
The highlight of the hiking that I’ve done was a couple of months ago. I was in Patagonia in the south of Argentina, at a place called Torres del Paine. It’s a national park with a lot of hikes and it was out of this world. I’ve done amazing hikes in New Zealand in Tongariro National Park, but I’ve done amazing hikes in the Hawaiian Islands, and in French Polynesia, I’ve done amazing hikes in Tahiti. There’s another French island, close to Madagascar called Reunion Island – it also has amazing hikes. And there’s an active volcano there that you can walk around ... the list is long!
How do you fit it all in?
Sometimes I wish I had more time. When I travel around I always want to see everything. Sometimes I do things a little too fast. I don’t really have the time to sit down and relax and take one day and chill. I always have to do a very tight schedule.
What’s your best travel tip?
Every time I go to a new place, I always try to have information about what’s around and what’s the best thing to see – talk to the locals, that’s the best way to do it and it’s also the nicest way to do it. Talk to the people to learn about the place where you are.
Is food a big part of your travel experience?
I always try to eat the real local food and taste the things that I haven’t tasted before. I really enjoy – especially in Australia because you guys love coffee and I love coffee – to find a new coffee shop. It’s amazing sitting on a terrace having a nice little pastry – I’m French so I need my pastry every morning!
What has been your favourite meal?
Tough question! Everywhere I’ve been I’ve had amazing meals but I would say in Chile, I went to a little park in the mountains, and I’ve had a big piece of meat – but it was the best meat I ever ate in my life, so tender and so tasty! But I love Japanese food, I love Thai food. Everywhere there is amazing food.
And the food we have in house at Cirque du Soleil is some of the best food I’ve had in my life. It’s like going to the restaurant three times a day. The chefs, they’ve been travelling for many years so when they cook Korean food or Japanese food, they know what they’re talking about. For me that’s a big thing in the show. It’s important because that’s our fuel.
Where do you stay when you’re on tour?
It depends on the country, and the promoter we are with. Sometimes it’s hotels, sometimes they’re apartments.
What has been your favourite place to stay?
The favourite place that I’ve had was in New York City with another show. I had an apartment on the 55th floor in downtown Manhattan. I had a balcony. It was like a glass luxury apartment. We’re really lucky with that. I just need a bed and a shower, that’s all I need. But every time I go to a nice hotel, I’m like, ‘Wow, this is too much ... but I’ll take it!”
How do you deal with jet lag?
For me, the main one is to not really care about jet lag and try to not think about it. And the main one is if your flight lands in the morning, do not go to sleep right away. Wait until they go to bed at the local time.
Any packing tips?
I always try to travel light because I don’t take that much stuff but I always end up buying stuff on the road. I always have all my camera gear with me, and my backpack for hiking and stuff. We are allowed to have two suitcases on tour and one bike – I just bought one like two weeks ago. I’m going to keep it with me on tour.
Where to next?
After Australia we’re going to Asia. Between cities, I’m going to go to the Whitsundays. I’m planning on doing the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island and then I’m going sailing in the Whitsundays. I want to go to Tasmania, as well, and back to New Zealand.
Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza is on show in Brisbane until January 8, 2017.
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