3 min

Flying high

Gay acrobat tumbles to town

OUT UNDER THE TENT. Acrobat Cristian Zabala and his non-performing boyfriend live the circus life that many of us dreamed about as kids. Credit: Cirque du Soleil

Cristian Zabala clears his mind as he soars off the giant trampoline then tumbles backwards, gracefully, through the air. “It’s a sensation that I can’t explain,” says the 28-year-old gay acrobat from Cirque du Soleil. “I don’t really think in the moment.”

But don’t you get scared? I ask, having never met a professional circus acrobat before. No, Zabala laughs good-naturedly. “Never.” Then he pauses.

Well, sometimes he gets a bit nervous before the show, he admits. But once he’s on stage, something else takes over.

Besides, adds the native Argentinean, “I did it many, many times.”

He’s not exaggerating. Zabala has been springing off various surfaces since he was 13 years old.

That’s when he starting taking tumbling and ballet lessons. But his interest in movement really took root in early childhood.

“When I was little, little, I watched on TV the gymnasts and I liked it,” he says, choosing his English words with care. “I was very interested about that.”

What was it about the gymnasts that captured your attention? I ask.

“I like to do strange movements,” he laughs.

Zabala pauses when I ask if it was difficult for a boy to do ballet in Argentina. Of course it was, he replies. But that prejudice probably exists everywhere, he adds.

And the lessons certainly seem to have paid off.

Zabala is already an accomplished singer, dancer and acrobat. For the last nine years, he’s been a regular on the Argentinean stage, performing in Cats, Beauty and the Beast, Chicago and several other musicals. He doesn’t hesitate when I ask him which part he liked best.

Chicago, he says-because he got to play a drag queen and sing soprano. “I really enjoyed that!”

So how did you end up touring with Cirque du Soleil? I ask.

He almost didn’t, he replies. In fact, he had pretty much given up hope of ever getting another audition with the circus at all.

Not that his first audition, four years ago, was a disaster or anything. “But they never called me. So I said, ‘okay,'” Zabala recalls, and moved on with his musical career.

Then, three years ago, Zabala competed in the acrobats’ World Cup and met another talent scout from Cirque du Soleil. He told the scout how much he wanted to join the circus. The scout encouraged him to send in another resume.

Zabala did more than that. For the next few months, he sent the circus a steady stream of videos of himself performing. And it paid off. He got another audition.

The result: all the teachers knew his name by the time he reached the circus’ training school in Montreal, Zabala laughs.

That was last summer.

Now, he’s savouring the chance to flex his acrobatic muscles with the circus’ new Alegria tour-and he’s loving every minute of it.

So, just how sexy is your costume? I ask him, taking him momentarily by surprise. He quickly recovers. Well, it’s definitely shiny and tight, he replies, but it’s not all that sexy. “Our body is totally covered with costume,” he explains. “It’s not sexy!”

Besides, he adds, the costume is actually “a little bit uncomfortable. It’s very tight and a little bit heavy and hot.”

But his act as a whole is sexy, he hastens to add.

It’s partly the characters, he notes. “Our attitude is really tough.” Combine that with the costumes, the music and the whole scene-“It’s powerful,” Zabala says.

But he’s reluctant to estimate just how large his gay following could be.

It’s hard to tell, he says, because he wears so much make-up on stage that people often don’t recognize him after the show.

Besides, he has a boyfriend now, he adds. They’ve been dating for about two months and they’re touring together with the circus, though his boyfriend doesn’t perform on stage.

How do the other circus members treat you? Are they gay-friendly? I ask.

He and his boyfriend are out on the set and they haven’t had any problems, Zabala replies.

“I find that if you are honest, people love you or they hate you,” he says.

Either way, it’s important to tell people the truth. “I am what I am and that’s it.”

*Check out Cristian Zabala and the rest of the Cirque du Soleil team as they bring Alegria to Vancouver. Show opens Jul 10. Tickets $65-85 for adults. Call 1.800.361.4595 for details.