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SALT LAKE CITY — The Maverik Center will be crawling with bug-like creatures this weekend, and it's drawing the attention of Salt Lake Valley residents.
Cirque du Soleil returns to West Valley City this weekend with its latest show “Ovo." The show, which name means “egg” in Portuguese, lets the audience experience a day in the life of a bug colony. The colony lives peacefully until a mysterious egg appears, causing curiosity, that represents the enigma and cycles of the insects’ lives.
“We’ve always had a great response in Utah,” said Cirque du Soleil publicist Nicolas Chabot.
While Cirque du Solei returns to the Wasatch Front, so has one of its cast members — Nansy Damianova. Damianova is no stranger to Salt Lake City as she's a former member of the University of Utah gymnastics team (2011-14).
“It’s so good to be back,” Damianova said.
The five-time All-American shined in the spotlight as a Ute. She earned 16 career victories, was the Pac-12 floor champion in 2014 and was named Utah’s Senior Female Athlete of the Year. Now, she’s illuminating the stage with some of the world’s most talented artists.
Damianova flies high in the show’s Russian Cradle, a trapeze-like act. It consists of six women and four to five men. The women swing from their hands or feet as the men throw them one-by-one through the air to the next trapeze. Damianova also appears in a group dance and is the understudy to the show’s black spider, should injury or sickness occur.
Damianova’s jaw-dropping acrobatics are a crowd favorite. She swings 45 feet from the ground, never missing a beat. It’s something she’s always wanted to do and credits gymnastics for teaching her many skills.
“I’ve always wanted to experience Cirque,” said Damianova. “I finished my collegiate gymnastics career in 2014 and didn’t graduate until 2015. Without gymnastics in my life, I felt like something was missing.”
She found herself often going to the gym to flip and jump on the trampoline. Damianova soon decided to coach gymnastics, but it wasn’t long before she received a call from Cirque du Soleil. The company contacted her, wanting her to try out for a role. Damianova had working relationships with some of Cirque's employees, so they knew her aspirations.
Damianova flew to Cirque du Soleil’s head office in Montreal where she auditioned. She was offered a contract and immediately started training. The former gymnast spent five weeks in Montreal preparing for her role, learning choreography and receiving a custom costume. She then joined the “Ovo” cast, which includes more than 100 people, and practiced another two to three weeks in the arena before her first show.
“We have more than 100 cast members from 21 different countries,” said Chabot. “We have roughly 50 artists, then we have management, coaches, a tech crew, and we have our own catering team.”
The cast started its show in April 2016 and finishes its United States tour this September. Damianova, along with the rest of the crew, will then begin a European tour.
But while she’s here in Utah, Damianova has made the most of visiting her college town. A good friend let her borrow her car so she could visit the Utah gymnastics team.
“It was great seeing Megan (Marsden) and Tom (Farden),” Damianova said of catching up with the team’s co-head coaches.
Past and present Red Rocks came to the show Wednesday night to support her. Her senior class will attend the performance Friday night.
Cirque du Soleil has fulfilled many wishes of Damianova’s, including being a part of the company and filling the void of gymnastics. Both offer a chance to perform and are very repetitive in training. However, there are differences between the two.
“Cirque isn’t as tiring as gymnastics because I’m training a couple of hours a day compared to five to six in the gym. I’m also focusing on one act compared to four events,” she said.
Damianova added that competing at the crowded Huntsman Center in front of 15,000 fans prepared her for Cirque du Soleil's audiences.
"I try to stay calm before performing and just go out there to have fun," said Damianova smiling, just before she started practice for her next show.