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By Olivia Kiers / June 29, 12:00 AM
Boston Accent: Taking Flight

Cirque du Soleil star Shelli Epstein spreads the joy of the troupe’s soaring ode to Mexico

Photo: Matt Beard; Costumes: Giovanna Buzzi


Raised in Israel and the United Kingdom and enrolled in a program for competitive gymnasts at the age of 4, Shelli Epstein first saw a Cirque du Soleil performance in her early teens at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Immediately, her goal was to one day be a part of the famous circus. After years of training and performing for an acrobatics group in China, her dream became a reality when Cirque du Soleil chose her, after an online audition, for Luzia. “I was ecstatic!” she remembers.    

A combination of the Spanish words for light and rain (luz and lluvia), Luzia uses water and fantastical animals as key elements in its homage to Mexican culture. Epstein’s character, the “Running Woman,” is based on the “ultra marathon-running tribe” called the Tarahumara, known for its long-distance running abilities. The Running Woman is also part-monarch butterfly, a creature that migrates between Canada and Mexico, making it a particularly meaningful symbol for Cirque du Soleil since it is based in Canada. “She’s somewhat magical,” Epstein explains, “because things tend to happen when she’s there. You could call her the tour guide of the show.” At the end of the extravaganza, Epstein performs on the Russian swing as the Running Woman/butterfly “takes flight.”

Epstein doesn’t have a moment to rest on her laurels, though. “We’re busy all day,” she says. “We’re always moving.” Yet Epstein enjoys physical activity, and often makes an effort to “become a part of the local fitness community” wherever she is touring. Most importantly, specials bonds form among Cirque du Soleil cast members in response to their intense training and performance schedules. “The cast is like a family to me,” says Epstein. “We all live and breathe our work.”

Like the Running Woman, Epstein embraces adventure and new experiences. “I’ve moved countries so many times, including moving to China when I was 18. Culture shock is no longer a fear for me. I embrace it. You have to seize these opportunities to learn and explore.” Epstein hopes that her sense of adventure will be shared by Bostonians when Luzia’s gold and white Big Top arrives at Suffolk Downs this summer. “The show is so vivid.…I hope it fills Boston with joy.”

Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia 

Through August 12 at Suffolk Downs, 525 William F. McClellan Hwy., cirquedusoleil.com

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