Cirque du Soleil’s ‘ECHO’ returns with twists

Penelope Elena Scheidler, Austria-born contortionist, shows her flexibility. Her “hair hanging” set is sure to shock the audience. // Photo by Sloan Salinas Student Publications

Cirque du Soleil will return to Atlanta this November with their new show “ECHO,” which focuses on “the symbiotic connection between humans and the natural world.” Though the show was supposed to open in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic halted its planning and production. The show finally was able to resume production and rehearsals in 2022. The first ever performance of “ECHO” finally happened in late April 2023 in Montreal. 

As the 20th Big Top Show from Cirque du Soleil, “ECHO” includes modern, technology-based visuals and new acts to create a world brought to life by veteran and first-time Cirque du Soleil performers alike. 

The show’s choreography balances the fluidity of nature with the calculated essence of science in a series of repetition-based metaphors that reflect how people’s actions have resounding effects on the world around them. The running metaphor makes the name “ECHO” fit the show perfectly. 

“ECHO” is the first Cirque du Soleil show to have six different vocalists, most playing instruments in addition to singing. The full cast comprises 52 people from 19 different nationalities, from the United States to Poland to Kazakhstan. 

The Technique attended Cirque du Soleil’s advance media day on Tuesday, Oct. 10, to see a preview of the jaw-dropping performances that make “ECHO” a spectacle that audiences can only find in Cirque du Soleil’s shows. In addition to the performance, the Technique also had the opportunity to speak with two of the show’s artists, Penelope Elena Scheidler and Shakirudeen Adewale Alade. 

Scheidler is from Salzburg, Austria and performs in Cirque du Soleil’s first duo hair suspension act with her partner, Charlotte O’Sullivan. Alade is from London, England and is a self-taught contortionist specializing in “bone breaking.”

Both artists originally started performing as dancers before moving to their current disciplines. Scheidler gave some insight into the art of “hair hanging,” which is when an aerial performer executes a variety of tricks and movements while suspended only by their hair. When asked about how she learned the art, she said, “it took me a while to figure it out [and] to find someone who teaches it because it’s very [secretive]…it’s one of the parts that’s different [from] other circus disciplines like handstands [where] you can get a coach.” 

Her and her partner’s hair must be tied in specific ways to ensure their weight is distributed evenly and minimize the discomfort of hanging only by their hair. “It’s this ancient discipline and also technique [for] how you tie the hair. And it comes with a special hair routine and … haircare,” Scheidler said. 

Contortionist Alade also learned his craft more unconventionally: he taught himself. Using videos and practicing stretches with a tie every day, he eventually increased his shoulder mobility and continued to become the highly skilled professional he is today. 

“ECHO” is Alade’s first show with Cirque du Soleil. “I’ve always wanted to work with them…since I was younger,” Alade said, “so this was a big dream of mine. [It’s] something ticked off my goal list.”  

The show tours for months at a time, performing up to 10 shows a week in approximately six different cities. With much of the cast from multiple areas of the world, most spend more time away from home than at home. Scheidler, who is originally from Austria and currently lives in Germany, said, “[the] people that you see in the tent every day [are] like your family. They see you when you’re sad; they see you when you’re happy; they celebrate with you. [It is] beautiful.”

Alade shared the sentiment, saying, “genuinely …[it] sounds cliche, but they do become your family in a way … we just motivate each other to keep going, and we inspire each other as well.” 

“ECHO” is split into 13 acts, all featuring acrobatics, stunts and acting and all requiring incredible talent and dedication from the Cirque du Soleil performers. When asked about the show’s highlights, Alade and Scheidler said “Double Trouble,” the show’s clowns, was their favorite part. “It’s a no-brainer,” Scheidler said, “I remember having the first ever presentation, and I usually don’t like clowns [but] I couldn’t stop laughing.” 

The white and blue tents of Cirque du Soleil’s “ECHO” will open on Nov. 9, and the beautiful world of human-nature collaboration will be a fixture in Atlantic Station through late January. Atlanta will be the show’s first stop on its tour across the United States. With new acts, new technology and artists of only the highest caliber, “ECHO” promises to be nothing short of magical. 

Tickets, booking and information can be found through