Behind the Scenes of Cirque du Soleil Corteo: High Stakes & Rewards With Jackson "Kaj" Kanukai

Cecilia Smith Austin | 3/16/2018, 1:13 p.m.
One of Cirque du Soleil’s most beloved productions, after wrapping up an exclusive six-performance run at Houston’s Toyota Center, many …

One of Cirque du Soleil’s most beloved productions, after wrapping up an exclusive six-performance run at Houston’s Toyota Center, many are wondering just how the masterful performers behind Corteo do it. Featuring 51 acrobats, musicians, singers and actors from across the globe, the theatrical masterpiece has become a fan favorite.

Taking time out of an incredibly hectic schedule, former performer and current coach Jackson “Kaj” Kanukai spoke with Houston Style Magazine to deliver a few tips of the trade and insight into the magical world of Cirque du Soleil Corteo. After being approached during the Vegas run of Mystere, Kanukai officially came board during the original run of Corteo.

With unique production and direction by Daniele Finzi Pasca, Corteo has delighted audiences in over 64 cities and 19 countries, through the tale of a clown picturing his own funeral inside of a carnival via a joyous procession as angels guide his way.

Style Mag: Corteo had an incredible run during its first release in 2005, what prompted the company to bring this specific show back? And for those that have never been to a Cirque Soleil showcase, what sets it apart?

Kaj: It’s very different from any other show; it’s definitely very special. I think it’s a classic and in general just a really beautiful, timeless piece. So I’m thinking that in the arena format it’ll be even more special.

Style Mag: How has the transition been for you, moving from artist to coach?

Kaj: I did Corteo from its creation. So during that time I’ve kind of transitioned and gone into doing different things and stunts. Unfortunately, I got injured at the end and got into the coaching side, but with anything, I think that there’s always that desire to keep performing. I’ll never say never when it comes to that.

Like any other high level acrobats, it’s just the nature of the business. You’ll pick up injuries and sometimes freak accidents happen, but thankfully we’ve got a really great medical team. There are some things that look like they’d be more susceptible to injury from the outside eye, like, I think some of these trampoline guys are crazy (laughs), but we try to minimize the risk with strength and conditioning training.

Style Mag: How would you describe life on the road?

Kaj: Trying new foods, some you like, some that you don’t like - there are so many positives and so many negatives. There are some cities that I absolutely love, and I’m talking to someone else from the show and they’re like “you loved it?” Then there are some places that I don’t want to go to again. (laughs)

Style Mag: What would you say would be next for you or your career?

Kaj: Coaching wise, I really love the fact that you get to give back to the world through entertainment. But I’d love to possibly go back to helping the Olympics team back in the UK, but the options are almost endless, there’s so many acts that you can do.

Style Mag: Any advice for those potentially interested in becoming a performer?

Kaj: Honestly there’s lots of different avenues, from circus schools, to those that have learned how to juggle just from watching YouTube videos. There’s always competitions, so whatever route you decide to take there’s a casting department where they hold auditions. You can send in videos, try gymnastics, but definitely check out the website and start auditioning.

Style Mag: And what’s your favorite act or scene from Corteo?

Kaj: I’m slightly biased, but the high bar act and it’s ending is definitely one of my favorites. Then there’s the opening with the chandelier, there really is something for everyone, Corteo really takes you through a range of emotions.