A Conversation with La Nouba's rising star

With a ‘40s-style swim cap hugging her scalp for the majority of Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, the production’s lead actress Cheryl Ann Sanders says it was ironic to find that the pinnacle moment in the show was when her character, The Cleaning Lady, ripped off the headpiece to reveal a long, blonde mane. The climactic moment takes the grungy character from rags to royal riches, marking the moment she transforms into a dazzling princess. Given La Nouba’s unconventional nature, it’s not surprising that the princess isn’t topped with a full head of flowing ringlets one might expect in a typical fairytale. We caught up with Sanders to discuss the unexpected surprises that make La Nouba the exotic twist of mystic proportions it is heralded to be.

For those who haven’t had a chance to see the production live, can you set the scene for us?

La Nouba transports you to this mundane, mechanical world. My character is a foreigner to that world, so you see her wearing big, fuzzy pink booties and a brightly colored floral frock made up of patchwork patterns. Reminiscent of childhood fairytales, the pinnacle moment is marked by The Cleaning Lady’s transformation into a princess after she kisses the frog. Of course, the frog’s not actually there—the audience has to imagine him being there. There’s a lot that’s open to interpretation. Every audience member can take something different away from La Nouba.

What does The Cleaning Lady look like after her transformation?

That’s what makes La Nouba so unique—it’s a fairytale that only Cirque can tell. When she reaches up and pulls her hat off, her hair is pin-straight, not flowing and whimsical. It’s almost like her hair represents the contrived nature of the setting, while her ensemble speaks more to the lighter side of her character…the side that’s willing to take a chance and try new things. She’s not wearing a beautiful ball gown, but a red and black dress accessorized with a feather boa.

Is your hair naturally straight or do you flat iron before each show?

It’s not straight at all. Patience is a big factor of being a part of a Cirque du Soleil production. It takes about an hour and a half each day to perfect the makeup and hair styles that you have been trained to have down to a science. I do my own makeup, but my hair is perfectly straightened on show days—Tuesdays through Saturdays—and colored every five-to-six weeks. Obviously, the flat ironing and lightening can be really damaging, so on days I don’t have a show, I’m all natural.

Is a hair and make-up team atypical for a Cirque du Soleil show?

In most live theatre, the performers will do their own hair and makeup. It’s not like television or movie sets. In fact, when you’re first hired, you go to the Cirque headquarters in Montreal for five days of training. In La Nouba, the makeup is quite exaggerated and dramatic, so there are a lot of steps involved and you have to know how to apply it so that it will keep for two shows, dinner and maybe even a quick gym session each night.

How would you describe your beauty Sunday and Monday beauty routine?

Simple. Simple. Simple. I won’t wear any makeup and will let me hair air dry into beachy waves. Unless I have a TV interview or a photo shoot, these are my “breathing room” days—the only thing that that touches my face is moisturizer and the only styling my hair will endure might be braids.
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