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30th September 2022

Cirque du Soleil: In conversation with Roger Hewett

Jessica Hamilton interviews band leader Roger Hewett ahead of Cirque du Soleil: Corteo’s residency at AO Arena
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Cirque du Soleil: In conversation with Roger Hewett
Photo: Artur Cichuta @foto.shu/@alterartshow.

The circus has always fascinated me. If I had the chance (or athletic ability), I’d join in an instant. The visual art forms and acrobatics are spectacular to watch. It’s a fantastic and impressive form of entertainment.

Succeeding its long and controversial history, the most famous modern-day circus is Cirque du Soleil. The Canadian company is currently touring with the show Corteo. Ahead of its UK journey, I lived my circus dreams vicariously through Roger Hewett. The band leader and arranger shared all about his involvement in the show. 

Hewett joined Corteo in 2005, he said: “I was one of the original members; I’ve pretty much been there since the beginning.”

Whilst many would automatically think of acrobats, animals or clowns in the circus, the band is also a necessary component. Hewett explains: “It involves putting the band together and arranging the music, and a lot of it has been the same since, which is great.”

Not many can say they’ve run away with the circus, and Hewett explained the fatigue the comes with working in such a fast-paced environment: “It’s quite a tiring experience, and this is phase two; it was in the big-top originally which is kind of a different experience because you get to live places a bit longer.” He continued, “Now it’s a bit more fast moving, travelling around in arenas; we change cities, sometimes even countries, weekly.”

But despite the quick nature of the show, Hewett is passionate about what he does. “It’s very dizzying, but at the same time, it’s still a fascinating experience.” Hewett elaborates, “It’s great to be able to leave your mark on something like that” – which, he explains, is why he has stayed in the show for so long: “This is the longest contract I’ve ever done; I believe it’s been over 4000 shows I’ve done, but it’s always different.” He said, “It’s never been the same show twice, which certainly keeps it interesting.”

Corteo has an excellent score behind it, which was created by a variety of composers: “We actually have five different composers.” Whilst Hewett had some involvement in composing, he explains, “I’ve left my mark arrangement wise, where the music has been adapted or extended […] It’s nice for me to get my stamp on that as an orchestrator; I love orchestrating.”

A live band adds atmosphere to any show, but Corteo goes the extra mile. Hewett explained the set up of the show: “We are divided into four different pits and communicate through headsets.” He elaborates: “Many times there’s a certain pit I don’t get to see at all; we come up on stage for a bow at the end, and it’s like, ‘Oh… nice seeing you all!’”

Corteo is an impressive show, but it’s just one production in Hewett’s long list of work. He described his love for music and how he ended up pursuing it as a career: “I started playing piano when I was six but I wasn’t really planning on doing anything with it. My sisters used to dance in Norwich, and my first job was accompanying dance classes.” He further explained how it was more of an accidental opportunity: “It came out of laziness. The dance teacher gave me a stack of books to read from, and I instead went off the steps of the music and just made my way by improvising.”

Hewett explained the movements of Corteo made it easier for the music to flow. He struggled to choose his favourite piece to play but said, “Right towards the end, you’ve got this beautiful duo straps act which I just love; the music is gorgeous to play and it always gives me a lump in my throat.”

Though Hewett is strictly on the musical side of this show, when asked if he would like to play a part in Corteo, he said: “It would probably be less of the acrobatic stuff and would be more of a character where I can express a bit more comedy in myself.”

After speaking to Hewett, I envy anyone who is able to see this fantastic show and am gutted I moved to London before the show comes to Manchester! Be prepared for an elaborate night filled with pure wonder. Hewett’s advice for anyone watching is to “come with an open mind, it’s a journey through the emotions.”

Cirque du Soleil: Corteo is at Manchester’s AO Arena from 5th-9th October and tours the UK until late October before returning to Europe and the USA. The world tour ends in mid-March 2023.

Written by Jessica Hamilton.

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