After competing in trampoline at the 2000 Olympics, Lee Brearley of Britain went on to performing double flips on stage in a zoot suit, and tumbles in full zombie attire. He staggered around like a drunk in one scene and sported a sarong in the next.
“First time on Broadway, and I wear a skirt,” he said of his costume for the Cleopatra scene in “Paramour,” the Cirque du Soleil musical.
By the time the Rio Olympics concluded Sunday, many athletes had gone home to begin or resume other careers. Maya DiRado, an American swimmer who won four medals in Rio, has said that a business analyst job awaits her. Michelle Carter of the United States, who won the shot-put, owns an online cosmetics business. The Canadian distance runner Lanni Marchant is a criminal defense lawyer.
A number of Olympic gymnasts fall into a different, hair-raising pipeline, filling roles in the ever-expanding universe of Cirque du Soleil.
In all, about 40 percent of Cirque’s performers come from artistic, rhythmic and acrobatic gymnastics backgrounds, as well as from trampoline, tumbling, diving and synchronized swimming.
At the moment, 21 Olympians — two of them medalists — perform in eight United States-based Cirque du Soleil shows. Jeffrey Wammes, a gymnast from the Netherlands who ended his career in Rio, is about to make it 22.
His next routine will be in Las Vegas as a cast member of “Mystère.”
“For me, it’s a way of life, keeping your body in shape,” Wammes said. “You still have to show people your best, but not in a competitive way anymore. It’s like living your dream job while entertaining others.”
For Cirque, recruiting high-caliber athletes is “almost a no-brainer,” said the company’s creative director, Fabrice Becker, who won an Olympic gold medal in freestyle skiing for France at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Cirque, for instance, conducted a workshop with the Canadian national halfpipe team this year. Snowboarders trained on the Russian swing, a circus staple, which can send performers 30 feet in the air.
Still, the transition from serious competitor to performer can be challenging. As if it were not hard enough to nail a somersault on a trampoline, try doing it while in costume — perhaps as a cricket, with six legs.
To prepare for such a role in “Ovo,” in which most of the characters are bugs, Brearley did what any self-respecting actor would do: He consulted YouTube.
“I saw this video, ‘Crickets Fighting,’” he said. “I thought it would be the most amazing video, but it was the most boring video I’ve ever seen. They kind of crawled over each other, and it took all of five minutes. But it taught me something.
“Insects sit there until it’s time to frighten the hell out of you,” he continued. Actors, on the other hand, think “doing nothing is wrong, so they tend to do too much.”
Some athletes find the transition fairly smooth.
“I view it as going pro as a synchronized swimmer,” said Christina Jones, a 2008 Olympian in that sport for the United States and a performer in the water-themed show “O.” “I know no one would care about my sculling techniques in an office, so I’m grateful I’m able to cash in on my lifelong work.”
The Cirque life often provides a career a second act. Or a third.
Terry Bartlett competed in gymnastics at three Olympics for Britain and retired after the Barcelona Games in 1992. Unsure of what to do next, he stumbled on a Cirque du Soleil audition while on vacation in California and accepted a job as an acrobat in “Mystère” in Las Vegas.
After his acrobatic skills began to wane, Bartlett turned to clowning almost 10 years ago. At 52, he now stars in “O,” wearing a loosey-goosey sailor suit, a clown nose and shoes the size of flippers. Instead of twists and tumbles, there are slapstick and high jinks.
Suzannah Bianco, competing under her maiden name, Dyroen, won a gold medal in synchronized swimming for the United States in 1996 alongside her sister, Becky, who was the choreographer for a synchronized swimming scene in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” The sisters have also performed together in “O,” which features pools.
“I still enjoy performing, being in the water,” Bianco said. “I enjoy sitting at the opening of the show and sitting in the silence of all the blue bubbles that are going around me and it’s not yet showtime. That space is an amazing environment that I can’t find anywhere else in the world. I can take the joy of being on stage in those moments, and it’s pervasive throughout my whole show.”
Brearley is the only Olympian in “Paramour,” from a cast that includes 10 former members of national gymnastics or acrobatics teams. The set, which weighs more than 18 tons, is a cityscape of roofs, fire escapes and scaffolding. Hidden from view are two trampolines.
In the show’s climatic moment, paparazzi and Dick Tracy-esque characters stage an elaborate chase-and-fight scene on rooftops. Bodies crisscross in midair like human juggling pins, nearly colliding. Fourteen acrobats and actors share the mayhem before the focus narrows on Brearley for his solo.
It is a routine full of doubles, pikes, twists and planks. He does five, maybe six low somersaults in one spot in rapid fire. All that is visible is the blur of a circle, a cartoonlike cloud of Road Runner dust.
Brearley’s solo is short, but he is motivated by the same dread that drove him as an Olympian — the fear of failure.
“I don’t want to fail,” he said. “I want people to see a good trampoline performance.”
At the end of that madcap somersault bit, he dizzily stumbles through a door and exits the stage.
Applause follows, and that, too, feels exactly the same.
Read more on http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/22/sports/olympics/acrobatic-olympians-spring-into-new-career-with-ci...