On Stage: Reaching For the Big Top


We think of Cirque du Soleil as life under the Big Top with a decidedly European flair and a repository for artists and acts with an exotic accent. But Cirque also has room for an all-American girl in its ranks, someone who has grown up shooting for the top.

Residents of Irwin, a suburb east of Pittsburgh, where she and her sister were always running and flipping around the back yard, Corey Hartung’s parents took note and sent them to Jutec Kasamon’s gym to play around there. She easily became the top gymnast there, but Corey had bigger goals. She set her sights on Kelli Hill’s facility in Maryland, the former home to Olympians Dominique Dawes, Courtney Kupets and Elyse Ray.

“It was intense,” Corey admitted on a recent trip to Pittsburgh to promote her Cirque show, Saltimbanco. “But I don’t regret a second of it. Kelli was demanding, yet outside the gym she was a great woman, a great mother, a great friend. She really cared about her gymnasts, too…encouraged us to go to high school dances and the prom.”

It worked — Corey became an elite gymnast on the U.S. National Team as a high school senior.

When it came time to choose a collegiate team, Corey was recruited by Rhonda Faehn at the University of Florida, one of the top-ranked in the U.S., where she racked up more honors, among them ten all-American titles.

Corey graduated in 2009 with a degree in sports management and a minor in business. But she wasn’t ready to give up the business of gymnastics. Her coach had connections with Cirque and suggested that the Montreal-based organization might be a good fit.

Blessed with a flexibility and line that had set her apart on beam and floor, Corey moved from athlete to artist after a six-month training period to perform in the touring production of Saltimbanco. No more competition — instead she relied more on acting, dance and drawing the audience into the show.

The story line of Saltimbanco is simple. The title plays upon the Italian phrase, “saltare in banco,” which means “to jump on a bench.” But the “bench” is located in the hustle and bustle of a fantastical city (perhaps Italian as well), punctuated with skyscrapers and loaded with “an abundance of joyful and colorful acrobatics.”

Corey began with the Bungees, becoming a bird with the aid of bungee cords and trapezes. (She never tried bungee-jumping in real life, but had done sky-diving.) But Pittsburghers will see her in the opening Adagio, a hand-balancing act that resembles acro-sport and where she plays the Mama in an ever-changing familial unit with Papa and Child. She also appears in the spectacular Russian Swing, an audience favorite where the performers are shot up to 30 feet in the air.

Corey has literally flown around the world, though, in her two years with Saltimbanco, just coming in from Taiwan and hitting “cool places” like Australia and South Africa along the way. Between shows she traveled, visiting cities like Barcelona and Florence.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” the modest young blonde says. Indeed, she has been surrounded by all things “bright and happy and fun and cheerful” in Saltimbanco, one of Cirque’s favorite shows and a production that has toured nearly 50 countries over the course of 20 years. But it’s all coming to an end with the last few performances before the grand finale in Montreal this December.

Corey might be keeping her options open, however. She’s seen three of Cirque’s traveling shows, plus three in Las Vegas, where “O” is her favorite — could she be dusting off her swimsuit?

Nonetheless, for someone who has been shooting for the top, it’s obvious that she has learned to soar through life.

See Listings for more Saltimbanco information.

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