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Cirque du Soleil’s ‘OVO’ hatches at Covelli

Staff photo / Andy Gray Janie Mallet, senior publicist and tour management for Cirque du Soleil’s “OVO,” shows some of the footwear worn by performers during a behind-the-scenes media tour Tuesday.

An infestation of bugs will be found this weekend at the Covelli Centre.

Instead of triggering a call to the exterminator, the insects will draw thousands to downtown Youngstown.

Lady bugs, crickets, butterflies and ants are the stars of Cirque du Soleil’s “OVO,” which opens Friday for four performances.

The tour has been in Europe for the last two years, and Youngstown is the first stop on the North American run.

The show tells the story of a ladybug who falls in love with another insect and transports audiences into their ecosystem with the colorful costumes, artistry, movements and acrobatics for which Cirque du Soleil is known. More than 180 million people have seen its productions in more than 60 countries on six continents.

“OVO,” which means “egg” in Portuguese, has no dialogue, outside of insect sounds, but it does have singers and a live band.

Because the cast had a five-week break, the touring unit arrived a few days earlier than usual for additional rehearsals before the first performance at 7 p.m. Friday. Not that the cast needs the extra time to get in shape.

“Even during breaks, we’ll be in training,” Canadian aerialist Catherine Audy said. “People aren’t doing nothing while we’re on break.”

Audy started training as an aerialist at age 11 –there was a circus school near her home in Quebec City — and she and her performing partner, Alexis Trudel, have worked together for 15 years, the last 10 with Cirque du Soleil. Audy said they created the aerial butterfly number that is part of “OVO.”

“It’s kind of an aerial ballet duet, a very romantic, sensual act, two butterflies kind of getting to know each other and mating in the air,” she said. “It’s very romantic, kind of a love story in the show.”

It’s also very dangerous.

“Sometimes my partner only has one hand in the straps and holding me only by one hand,” she said. “We don’t have any net under us, so our only safety is the straps and our partnership, so it’s big trust.”

The youngest member of the cast is Ramarni Levena, a 19-year-old from England whose background is in tumbling and gymnastics. He competed in the European and world championships, but the goal was to get to Cirque du Soleil.

“It’s so world-renowned, especially in the UK,” Levena said. “It’s hard to get on team GB (Great Britain). It’s hard to win international medals. It’s hardest to get to a place like this. A lot of people want to do it, so to be able to be here is very special to me.”

Levena is one of the crickets in the show, and part of his preparation for the role was studying nature footage of the insects to be able to mimic their movements on stage.

This is his first trip to the United States, and he didn’t hesitate when asked what he is looking forward to most on the tour.

“The food … I had a seafood boil for the first time for the first time yesterday,” Levena said. “The Europe tour was great. I’ve been to a lot of places we ended up going to, so it was nice to go back, but to come to a completely different continent and be here is crazy, and I’m super excited.”

While “OVO” presents a colorful ecosystem on stage, the ecosystem that exists backstage is just as fascinating.

Janie Mallet, senior publicist and part of the tour management team for “OVO,” led the media on a backstage tour on Tuesday.

More than 20 semitrailers were needed to bring the show and its team of 100 people to the Mahoning Valley.

Only about half of them appear on stage. The rest fill every nook and cranny of the arena handling the production’s needs.

“OVO” travels with four costumers who tailor the colorful garments to the performers’ needs, inserting a bit of extra padding where it’s needed.

“We’re very becoming one with the costume,” Audy said.

Mallet said many performers have a certain shoe they prefer, and the costume design team will take the artists’ preferred footwear and build the costume around it.

Costumes are washed after every performance — one of those semitrailers carries a bank of washing machines to handle the laundry. There are no dryers, though. They use fans to dry the garments to preserve their color and durability. Even with those precautions, some costumes last only three months.

A kitchen is set up in a concourse area of the arena, and a team of chefs prepares two or three meals daily for those 100 people.

Behind the main stage, there is a separate rehearsal / training space, so one group of performers can work on stage while another is using the backstage area. There also is a fully equipped gym.

Cameras record every performance for safety measures, and the monitors backstage let the actors know when it’s their cue to go on stage.

“OVO” made its debut in 2009, but its ecosystem continues to evolve.

“For a show that’s been on for 15 years, there are changes,” Mallet said. “It’s the same show, the same essence, but we absolutely work on the show every day.”

If you go …

WHAT: Cirque du Soleil — “OVO”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Covelli Centre, 229 E. Front St., Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $52 to $127 and are available through Ticketmaster.

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