As a recreational aerialist with a full-time job on land, I’ve always wondered…. What does it take to make it to Cirque du Soleil? What would it be like to throw away expectations of the 9 to 5 professional job and actually run away to the circus? Sitting down to chat with Max Torandell at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, I learned about how one artist found his way from Buenos Aires to the ropes of Cirque Du Soleil.
Max was a teenager in Buenos Aires when he started aerial arts, but it wasn’t his first choice. He wasn’t able to join the ballet or gymnastics school, so circus arts became the next best thing. He never thought he would become a professional. “I was going to school, doing computer science because all of my family was in that business. Then suddenly, I started getting booked for jobs.” He credits this to his natural flexibility; his lines have fooled many into thinking he has a dance background. “Then I never stopped; I left computer science on the side and became a performer.”
After performing successfully in Buenos Aires, Max moved around a lot, from Miami, back to Argentina, to Mexico where he settled for 3 years, then to LA where he performed and taught for Hollywood Aerial Arts. The most notable experience of Max’s pre-Vegas career working in a show called Fibonacci Project with Les 7 Doigts de la Main, a company he describes as one of the best in the world. After connecting with the company, Max would take on one of the most challenging and amazing experiences of his career performing in Fibonacci in Mexico City.
His transition to Vegas began when he was hired to perform with Cher, who according to Max is “one of the most amazing performers that you could wish to perform for.” Another amazing performer who Max worked with during this time was Jen Bricker. (A talented aerial acrobat and speaker who was born with no legs and who discovered at 16 that she was the biological sister of Olympic gold medal gymnast, Dominique Moceanu) They performed together at the Palazzo in Las Vegas.
But like all performers, Max faced some disappointments along the way. Like when he was on tour with Cher, but she got sick and cancelled the last leg, and when he became artistic director of light, but then Light split with Cirque du Soleil. “I was artistic director for 7 months, so I wasn’t up in the air for the longest time in my life. Now I was like, what am I going to do? It’s not that easy to be an artistic director. There are not so many open spots. So I went to train again.” When Cirque called him in for a rope audition, he had a week to put together a rope video on an apparatus he hadn’t touched for years. But it did the trick, and he was cast in his current role as a back-up soloist for Michael Jackson ONE.
Life as an aerialist in Vegas is tough work. In the average day, Max will go to the theater at 3:00pm, spend two hours doing make-up, spend a couple hours warming up, then get into costume. He performs two physically demanding shows a night, and leaves by 11:00pm. Now that times five is a week in the life of a Cirque du Soleil soloist, all the while most likely fighting injuries. Luckily, the performers have a strong support system of circus performers in Las Vegas. “Here there is a huge community of performers, and that’s the amazing part. We all know each other, and a lot of people are like me, coming from another country. In my show, so many different countries represented. We have China, Japan, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Russia, Cuba; it goes on and on, and every show is like that. That is our family.”
At this stage in his career, Max has a resume that includes performing, touring, creating, and teaching at the highest level in the business. Clearly, it’s more than just his nice lines that have brought him this far; it’s his attitude of rejecting complacency, of never taking for granted neither his talent nor the opportunities he is given.
“I think what it takes to be the best is not to think of yourself as the best. If you always think that there is room for improvement, you can be one of the best or be at the top of your game. A lot of people take it for granted. They think they are amazing. They may be, but some of them are not. That’s when you stop growing. I always feel there is always place for improvement and I always love getting feedback. Even when I have a solo with Cirque du Soleil, if I know someone who is an experienced coach that is in town, I try to get ahold of them for a private training. There is always someone better than you or someone who can help you from a different angle…so I think that is what it takes to be on top of the game. Don’t take if for granted and take classes everywhere.”
That’s how one performer made his way to Cirque du Soleil: putting his heart into the pieces he creates, and his sweat into the ones he performs; moving halfway around the world, and then continuing to go where the opportunities present themselves; fighting with injuries, but never stopping in the pursuit of professional growth. Professionals like Max are the leaders of the aerial community at-large, and it’s their gravity-defying athletic and artistic feats that inspire the rest of us. So on behalf of all the after-work aerialists who dream of running away with the circus, thanks for sharing your talent with the world, for passing along your circus knowledge, and for pushing the boundaries of this crazy art form we love.