How St. Charles skater got on the ice with Cirque du Soleil
After seeing her first Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas five years ago, professional figure skater Madeline Stammen had a chance to hang out with some of the cast members. She told them how impressed she was by the performances and choreography in the water show "O."
"I remember saying that night, 'If Cirque du Soleil ever employs ice skaters, I'd love to work for that company.' We laughed about it," she said.
Fast forward five years, and now Stammen, from St. Charles, is starring in Cirque du Soleil's first ice show, "Crystal." It's in the midst of a world tour and comes to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates Thursday, Nov. 16, through Sunday, Nov. 19.
"It's so funny how life works sometimes. It's like, be careful what you say, because it might happen," she said.
Stammen, who turns 24 Thursday, was planning to take a break from ice skating when she got the job. She'd been accepted to New York University's engineering school and, having been home-schooled most of her life, looked forward to being a full-time college student.
When the friends she met at Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas sent her an application to try out for "Crystal," she dismissed it.
"People kept recommending me and pushing me to do it. It's like God was telling me something and pushing me to apply," she said. "Finally I just sent in an application and threw together a last-minute video."
Stammen got the job and, weeks later, she was in Montreal for the three-month-long rehearsals.
"I've applied to school three times and gotten into these awesome universities. And every time, something in entertainment or ice shows has come up and pulled me back," she said.
Skating has consumed her life she since was a kid. She grew up idolizing Olympic figure skaters Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen.
Stammen would train for three to six hours a day, five to six days a week. When she reached high school, her parents enrolled her at St. Charles East High School part time, so she could experience things like homecoming, dances and graduation.
Stammen had the same coach as Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek for a while, Candy Brown Burek, and among her many accomplishments, Stammen earned gold medals in the United States Figure Skating Association's ice dancing and freestyle skating competitions.
"I was really always in skating for the performance aspect of it. I always loved being in shows," Stammen said. "The best part, for me, was performing in front of a crowd. That's what got me exhilarated."
She stopped competing and spent four years working on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, doing shows on the ships' ice rinks. She also was a regular for four years in the "Hot Ice" show in England.
"I got to see the whole world doing what I love," she said.
When "off contract," she helps out with coaching and choreography at the places she used to train, Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva and All Seasons Ice Rink in Naperville.
The "Crystal" show is unlike anything Stammen's done before because it includes so many special effects. Cirque's circus acrobats have helped her learn some tricks. In return, she helped teach them how to ice skate.
"They made me do push-ups and all sorts of difficult things," she said, laughing. "The fact that Cirque has employed ice skaters is such a big thing in our industry. The circus world and the ice skating world are collaborating."
Like most Cirque shows, "Crystal" uses abstract storytelling. The story centers on a girl named Crystal who falls through the ice and finds herself in an alternate world. She meets her reflection underneath the ice, and that reflection takes her on an adventure. Stammen plays Crystal's reflection.
"I'm kind of like the White Rabbit in 'Alice in Wonderland,'" she said. "I'm taking her through this crazy, surreal version of her own life."
"Crazy" and "surreal" are good words to describe Stammen's life, too, but in a good way.
"If you'd have asked me a few years ago, I would have never said I'd be working for the circus," she said. "But it's cool the way everything has worked out. I am just taking it as it goes and going with the flow."
-- Jamie Sotonoff
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Cirque du Soleil's "Crystal"When: Thursday, Nov. 16, through Sunday, Nov. 19
Where: Sears Centre Arena, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates
Tickets: Start at $30