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What’s it take to perform with Cirque du Soleil? Being a competitive gymnast helps

Cirque du Soleil, Corteo

Cirque du Soleil kicks off six performances of its show "Corteo," Sept. 20, 2018 at the Save Mart Center.
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Cirque du Soleil kicks off six performances of its show "Corteo," Sept. 20, 2018 at the Save Mart Center.

Fredric Umali is a bit of a night owl.

It’s a consequence of the job.

The 39-year old ex-gymnast has been an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil since 2004 and is currently touring the United States with “Corteo,” which starts a four-day run of six shows at the Save Mart Center on Thursday night. He is one of 51 acrobats, musicians, singers, jugglers, hula-hoop performers, clowns and actors who are part of the show.

“Corteo” revolves around a circus clown who imagines his own funeral.

It’s a carnival, of course.

Umali’s bit, “Tournik,” is the final act of the show. It’s a piece of group acrobatics performed on a set of horizontal (and vertical) bars set up on a cube.

It takes awhile to come down off that high of performing.

“I’m a bit amped after the show,” Umali says.

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Cirque du Soleil kicks off a six-show run of “Corteo” at Fresno’s Save Mart Center Sept. 20, 2018. Dominique Lemieux Cirque du Soleil

The evening shows end around 10 p.m. and then there are costumes to be returned and makeup to be removed before the performers can even think about getting back to the hotel. They typically grab a shuttle, Umali says, unless the hotel is walking distance from the venue.

“We live out of hotel rooms,” he says, though sometime the performers manage an Airbnb.

Umali gets two days off each week, usually Monday and Tuesday, though that’s often spent traveling. If the next stop is within a six-hour drive, Umali and the others will pile into a bus. For longer trips, they fly.

He sleeps quite a bit on those off days and eats less than normal. But then he doesn’t need the calories. He tries to keep away from processed food, which is tough when you’re traveling from city to city. Plus, Umali loves to eat and likes trying local restaurants when there’s time.

And he’s not above having a cheat day, he says.

“I like to have a burger. I like to have a beer.”

He keeps a stash of nuts and granola when he’s traveling and has a kettle for tea.

Everyday regardless of whether there’s a performance, Umali does a bit of stretching and an internet yoga session and some cardio work. The tour travels with a treadmill and stationary bicycle.

On performance days, Umali ups the workout to two hours of weights and cardio, some high-intensity strength training and more stretching.

“It’s functional training,” Umali says. “I don’t lift weights to have a beach body.”

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Fredric Umali is one of the acrobats in “Tournik,” the final act in Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo.” Dominique Lemieux Cirque du Soleil

He does it so he can get through the show’s routines without hurting himself, though there is always some aches and pain to work through, he says. The workouts are followed by an hour of stage training; prep work for the actual performance.

There’s just a small window each day for Umali to relax before he has to ready his costumes and start applying his makeup for the show.

This all happens on repeat for 10 weeks. Then, the crew gets two weeks off, before coming back to do it again.

It’s certainly no 9-to-5 job.

“It’s special and quite rare that people choose this as a career,” he says. Those who do it spend an incredible amount of time in order to be able to perform at this level, he says. Some have been training since they were children.

“To learn these disciplines, it takes years and years and years,” he says.

Of course, Umali never thought he’d run away with the circus. He was a gymnast from the age of 6 until he was 24 and competed for the U.S. nationally and internationally.

It was mostly for the challenge. When he started working with Cirque du Soleil, he found it fit his personality better than competing.

Plus, “I really love what I do,” he says.

“I will do this job until my body says, ‘You’re going to have to find a new path.’”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Cirque du Soleil Corteo

  • 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday
  • Save Mart Center
  • $42-$128
  • 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com
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