Cirque du Soleil "Crystal" combines acrobatics and skating for a unique show. // Matt Beard

Edmonton skater returns home with Cirque du Soleil

Andy Buchanan talks about how he met his wife and partner Robin Johnstone, and what it’s like to skate with acrobats in Crystal

Cirque du Soleil Crystal
Rogers Place; Wed., Feb. 13 – Sun., Feb. 17

Cirque du Soleil is bringing a new kind of show to Edmonton—one that combines acrobatics and skating. Crystal premiered in 2017, but this is the first time it will be performed here, and one of the show’s skaters, Andy Buchanan, is looking forward to what, for him, will be a homecoming.

Buchanan grew up in Wabamun, and eventually started training in Edmonton at the Royal Glenora Club. That’s where he first met his future pairs skating partner and wife, Robin Johnstone.

“Robin’s a few years older than I am, and she came to skate at the Royal Glenora Club when we were kids. I think I was about 13 at the time, and I hadn’t hit puberty; I noticed her, but she didn’t notice me,” Buchanan says.

It wasn’t until they were skating with Disney on Ice’s 3 Jungle Adventures—where Johnstone was skating as Jane from Tarzan, and Buchanan was skating as Scar from The Lion King—that the two became close.

“We were best friends for like a year or so before we started dating, and then we started dating and that was history,” he says.

The couple would eventually skate together as Tarzan and Jane shortly after beginning their romantic relationship. They’ve done many things together since then.

“We’ve worked for basically every company out there,” Buchanan says. “After Disney, we did a show called Holiday on Ice, where we were the stars of the show for Holiday on Ice Believe, which was choreographed by [Olympic gold medal winning ice skater] Christopher Dean.”

The couple also performed on the UK reality show Dancing on Ice, which Buchanan describes as “basically like Dancing with the Stars, the ice skating version.”

The couple has many additional on-ice credits, but also has experience on the other side of the curtain. They have coached over the years, were assistant choreographers for Disney on Ice’s Follow Your Heart in 2016, and Buchanan is now the artistic skating partner in casting for Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du Soleil “Crystal” also includes extreme skating. // Matt Beard

Buchanan says he and Johnstone have been waiting their whole career for Cirque du Soleil to do an ice show, and they finally got the call from a friend who was involved in the creation of Crystal, letting them know to have their audition tapes ready.

Buchanan describes the audition process as “quite a difficult” one. It included having to choreograph a number to classical music, with parts with Buchanan and Johnstone each skating separately, and then skating together, in 24 hours.

“So it was really quite tricky,” he says.

But that’s nothing compared to some of the tricks you’ll see him and Johnstone perform on the ice.

“We have one act, which … is a poles numbers. It’s a mix between Chinese pole and Russian swing. So there are these giant poles that swing from the ceiling, and I’m on it,” Buchanan explains. “So basically we build the speed—I have an acrobat on the other side—and we build the speed until we’re almost as high as the ceiling … and then I, with the timing, give my partner resistance and he does back flips and all sorts of crazy turns and stuff onto a small mat held by four guys.”

Oh, and Buchanan does this while wearing skates.

He also gets to do lifts with a contortionist, which he says are not like any lifts you would typically see in competition.

Buchanan and Johnstone also have a big trick in the show’s finale.

“So there’s two acrobats, each one of them has one of [Robin’s] arms and one of her legs, and they swing her back and forth, and then they release her at the top and she does kind of like a backflip, and I catch her with her legs around my neck, and then we spin out of it,” he says.

Buchanan emphasizes what an honour it is to be part of Cirque du Soleil’s first ice show, and is excited to perform Crystal in Edmonton.

“I’m just really looking forward to playing home, and the new venue, and having my family come to watch; it’s going to be great,” he says. “And I’m just really excited to feel that vibe in Edmonton again; it’s been a long time since I’ve been there and even skated there.”

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