Backstage with Cirque du Soleil in Doha

We grabbed our VIP passes and went behind the scenes of Dralion

Backstage with Cirque du Soleil in Doha
Backstage with Cirque du Soleil in Doha Image #2
Mark Shaub, Artistic director Image #3
Mark Shaub, Artistic director
Melody Wood, Head of wardrobe Image #4
Melody Wood, Head of wardrobe

As the Qatari air is abuzz with talk of Cirque du Soleil’s visiting show Dralion, we used our backstage passes to get the lowdown on everything we won’t see while the performers dangle from great heights. Katy Gillett goes behind the scenes with the artistic director and head of wardrobe.

Mark Shaub, artistic director

For over twenty years, Oklahoma-born Mark Shaub has danced for leading choreographers all over North America, including the legendary Canadian Jean-Pierre Perreault. He was the first ever artistic coordinator for Cirque du Soleil’s Big Top touring show Corteo and in 2011 worked on Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour. Now, he is the boss of Dralion.

What inspires you about Dralion?
My job is to work with the artists in maintaining the quality of the show and keeping it up to the standards of how it was created. It’s inspiring watching all the talent out there on the stage – to work with them and make it better, and to watch how much they give and how much they work to make this show everything that it is.

What is your favourite scene in the show?
That’s a hard one. Personally I like the hoop diving act the Chinese troop does that involves an African dancer as well. It’s an exciting high level of acrobatics and involves great music.

What made you get into the job you’re currently in?
I was in the dance world before Cirque du Soleil. I was a dancer for around 20 years and also worked in the artistic direction of a dance company. When an opportunity came available at Cirque I really jumped at it. You use a lot of the same skills you develop in a career on stage even if it’s not strictly dance. When I was a dancer I was always interested in taking a step into the whole process of how things are done. I wanted to be involved in the directing and teaching and one thing led to another.

What does a regular day at the office entail for you?
I don’t know if there is a regular day here. It entails getting up and getting on the shuttle from the hotel where we stay to the arena. Often my day starts at the hotel with emails and phone calls. After this interview for example I’m going to go work on an act with one of the artists who is warming up on stage at the moment. There’s a bunch of training throughout the day – I’m involved in some of that and I’m involved in meetings because I’m management. I’ll decide what version of the show we’re doing today, speak to medical staff, managers and so on to get it ready. Then I watch the show most nights and take notes.

How many versions of Dralion are there?
We have a standard version but sometimes there’s a technical difficulty and we can’t do one act so we’ll rotate in another or sometimes there’s been an artist injury so we substitute one act for another. We have back-up acts we like to keep in good shape so we can rotate them into the show.

What do you like most about your job?
I do like being in charge that’s one thing. I really like the people I work with and being involved in working in a milieu of people who are passionate about what they do. Everybody’s passion feeds that of everybody else’s. It’s an exciting job with a lot of change involved in it and very dynamic. It keeps me alive and feeling like I’m doing something special.

Melody Wood, head of wardrobe

Melody started out as a costume designer and puppeteer 14 years ago and has since worked on world-renowned shows in her home country, England, such as Starlight Express and Les Miserables, as well as on a cruise ship and other performances. She joined Dralion in 2011 to maintain this spectacle of brightly coloured costumes and make up.

What inspired the costume design?
The costumes were designed long before I joined so they date back many years. Our designer François Barbeau actually went to China and was inspired by a lot of the colours he saw when he flew into the country from the landscape. For instance, the character Oceane - Goddess of Water [played by Tara Catherine Pandeya] wears beautiful shades of green that were inspired by the shades of water that he saw there.

What is considered when creating them?
What we do here is incredibly geared towards the acts in the show. As much as we’re looking for inspiration, and looking to the world around us, we have to be specific about garments and what’s required for acts. It’s not possible for floaty costumes in aerial acts. Our hoop artist cannot have too much fabric hanging down – it needs to be a fitted unitard. But we still don’t want plain colours so the fabrics are made up of three or four layers, with red for the element of fire and fresh panels in it so you see a bit of her skin but it’s not really her skin. There is a lot of detail that goes into the costumes.

What are your day-to-day duties?
We take care of all the make-up and costumes. My day starts by taking care of the washing from the night before – we go through to check if there need to be any repairs; maybe the elastic is loose or there are holes in the knees. Sometimes costumes naturally come to the end of their life – maybe the colour is fading or they generally don’t look as good as they once did – so we’ll replace it. There are 52 artists on the show so we distribute costumes to each artist. New costumes arrive every two weeks from Montreal where they are all made. When they arrive we do a new fitting with the artist. Our main job here is to make sure the costumes always stay true to the original design of the show. We can add padding to an elbow or a knee for the artist’s comfort if they need a little extra support. We’re working much more directly with the artists and their needs.

When did you realise that this is what you wanted to do?
I actually studied to be a costume designer and puppeteer. I graduated in 1998 and after spending three years working in a theatre I realised I much prefer the interaction working with an artist or an actor than drawing a picture or reading a text. I find inspiration from challenges that arise daily in a show. Elastic snaps, shoe laces break… for me that’s the challenge – creating for the audience a seamless experience so they don’t know anything is happening back stage.

Do you watch the show?
I don’t watch it every evening because I’m back stage problem solving during the show. I like to go out as often as I can as there are often new artists that integrate so it’s good to watch and see how they look on stage. What’s very important about wardrobe is that often people don’t think there’s a large technical team back stage. I like that when you go to see a show you should be inspired and see the whole package and get taken away to somewhere else. Our job is to present you with a whole different environment and hopefully we do a good job of creating the environment of Dralion so people can go for a couple of hours and be taken away.

Quick costume facts

Over 5,000 metres of fabric were used to create the costumes

A few of the odder materials used include horse hair, metal, window screens, emu feathers, crystals, bubble wrap and a bunch of hardware items

To create the texture on the chest plate of the singer’s costumes, bugs were glued on and then molded into different shapes

Artisans at the Cirque du Soleil costume workshop in Montreal, Canada worked for over three months making the original Dralion costumes. Since then, new ones arrive every two weeks

Dralion has close to 3,000 costume pieces

The team takes eight washers and dryers with them on tour

Over 300 pairs of shoes are cleaned and re-painted by hand every week

Initially, it takes a performer almost 12 hours to learn how to apply their make-up. From then on, it will take between 45 minutes to an hour for them to put their own make-up on before each show

What’s it all about?

Fusing the 3,000 year-old tradition of Chinese acrobatic arts with the multidisciplinary approach of Cirque du Soleil, Dralion (pronounced dra-lee-on) draws its inspiration from Eastern philosophy and its never-ending quest for harmony between humans and nature. The show’s name is derived from its two emblematic creatures: the dragon, symbolising the East, and the lion, denoting the West. The Goddess of Water, Oceane, played by Tara Catherine Pandeya, describes it like this: ‘I think it’s an extremely vibrant and exciting show – adrenaline-packed and upbeat. It’s kind of like a kaleidoscope of all these different colours and completely different disciplines brought together on stage and used together with the music.’

When: Shows start from September 19
Where: Aspire Dome, Al Waab
How can I buy tickets? There are ticket booths in City Centre Mall and Souq Waqif, and you can buy them online at
How much: Tickets cost between QR250 and QR2,000 depending on which type you choose. 

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