Trevor Bodogh is a man with so much passion for life, it’s hard for him to decide which direction to take.
And he’s a man with many choices, having just finished a two-week event with 18 shows, 70 minutes long, under a big tent with Cirque Eloise, a Montreal production company that does large-scale circus shows.
This series of performances, called Skyline, was part of a festival held to increase tourism in Dammam, the capital of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.
With Niagara as his home base, Bodogh is considered one of just two or three mountain bike circus and stunt performers in North America still active and with the level of skill to qualify for such shows. That well-earned distinction comes from a tour of 250 performances he wrapped up about a year and a half ago with Volte, a Cirque de Soleil production, which led to some short-term opportunities since, he said.
This was his third stint with Cirque Eloise — he did some shows in Miami, spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve on stage in Tignes, France, and just finished the performances in Saudi Arabia.
His skill is as a trial rider, executing breath-taking stunts on a specially-designed bike, travelling across various obstacles while balancing on his bike pedals.
When the call came for the Saudi show, he says, he had to decide quickly whether he was in or out. He had three days to prepare his bikes, pack a suitcase, drive to Montreal, and begin an 11-day rehearsal program to learn the music, timing and dance choreography with the team at a modified industrial space in East Montreal.
Every show he’s done is different — in choreography, pacing and makeup, which takes time to apply.
“That’s the nature of these special events — there is a lot of work that goes into making them happen,” a lot of expenses and a huge organizational effort, especially when they’re so far away. This one in particular was a “landmark event” for that area of Saudi Arabia, with the unusual circumstance of men and women sitting together with their kids, to enjoy the show as a family, he said.
All costs for performers are picked up by the production company; all hotels, meals and transportation provided — perks that are provided “in exchange for our passion, energy, risking our lives, and our professionalism,” he said.
The route to his Volte performances was a little different — it began with a meeting in Montreal and a tour of the Cirque de Soleil training facility in 2012, followed by two years of no response. Then in 2014 he was invited to an extreme sports casting call in Las Vegas, which he attended — with some help from family — that included a one-minute, “show us what you’ve got” audition, and was told he’d be considered “for future opportunities.”
Again, no word for another two years. In 2016, he received an email from his original Montreal contact, asking him to call, saying he was wanted as a trial artist, but again, no definite arrangements were made.
When he hadn’t heard anything by New Year’s 2017, he made a resolution to “get a real job,” but a few days later was asked for some one-minute videos to show his athleticism and ability to learn choreography.
He set a camera up in a room at the Niagara-on-the-Lake community centre for that — to judge his athleticism, artistry, expression and energy. After sending off the tapes, he waited another six months, and finally heard the news he was waiting for.
“My whole life shifted,” he says, as he headed for training at the Cirque de Soleil headquarters for what turned out to be “a huge production, with amazing technology which required 61 transport trucks to haul the infrastructure around. The size of the production was mind-boggling.”
NOTL residents who walk through Queen’s Royal Park might have seen Bodogh — he’s the son of Louise Howe, from Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Gerald Bodogh of St. Catharines, who died in 2008 — training on the rocks along the beach. That was about eight years ago, when he was trying even then to decide whether it was time to get a ‘real job,’ he says, while not wanting to give up on somehow turning his passion for riding into a career.
One of his pivotal moments occurred on that stretch of beach, when a woman walking by stopped to ask him what he was doing. After a brief chat, as she walked away, she told him she expected to see him on a big stage one day.
About a year later, Bodogh, with no direction and not a cent to his name, but still having a passion for riding, was again training on the beach as the same woman wandered along. He took her up on an invitation for tea and a chat.
As he was leaving, he says, she handed him an envelope, which he discovered contained $3,000 — a gift to help him continue working toward his goal. He went to knock on her door a short time later to thank her again, he says, and found instead an empty house and a for-sale sign on the lawn.
It was also around that time he was asked to perform locally — a modest beginning to his career as a performer — at the Virgil Stampede, thrilling youngsters with his ability on a bike.
He has some other recollections of events that helped him get to where he is — one is peeling shrimp for his uncle one summer, earning enough for his first mountain bike, which he bought from Liberty! Bicycles in St. Catharines.
As a young kid, he says, he used to hang out at the bike store, bothering the staff with all kinds of questions about bikes and riding. When Volte came to Toronto, the staff rented a party limousine and came to watch him — a pretty rare moment for the young guy who loved to hang out at a bike store. “It was so awesome to see them there.”
He’s currently staying with his “brother,” a Cirque friend he met while training in Montreal, with whom he has performed and developed a close friendship, and whose family became his second family. They are in Miskolc, Hungary, a picturesque town about two hours east of Budapest, with beautiful sunsets and “a real Eastern European, country vibe” to it, where he expects to stay about another two weeks before returning home to Niagara. In the meantime, he’s giving himself some time to unwind and try to figure out, not for the first time, what he’s going to do with the rest of his life.
“It’s a question I keep asking myself,” he says. “It’s been the question for the the last four years: what’s next? What’s plan B? What does this evolve into?”
But at the same time he’s working out his plan B, he is also waiting for the next email, the one that will offer him another opportunity to perform. He thinks it could come from Cirque Eloise in a few weeks, for two more weeks of shows in Kuwait — a trip worth making, he says, with similar conditions and the same team “to finish this journey.”
The entertainment industry is volatile, and looking ahead, waiting for the next contract to come along while maintaining physical fitness to be ready when it comes can be tiring, and it makes getting into something more stable an attractive solution.
He has a diploma in business from Sheridan College, but if he plans to ever work a nine-to-five desk job, it isn’t any time soon.
He’s looking at sharing his mountain bike expertise with “a wider population,” helping other cyclists to develop what they need to raise their skill levels and performing opportunities to the next level.
He is also “crazy about squash,” a sport he learned from his father. He became a top junior player at the age of 15, and plans to become certified so he can coach.
Although he knows he has a great future and lots of options for rewarding work, he also knows he will miss the thrill of performing that nobody, other than another performer, can understand.
“It’s such a high, that circus life. You’re completely taken care of. There’ll be no more makeup, no more high-energy performances — the lifestyle is like the rock and roll of circus people, where you’re all in. People in the circus call people outside the circus world muggles — they can’t understand how high your energy is, how much like a dream it is, what a special journey you’re on,” says Bodogh.
“I feel like I didn’t get to ride the wave long enough. I got a teaser, a taste of what it’s like. Now I’m going to concentrate on helping other artists to get to that point. It’s a thrill like no other. The hidden gem is being able to use my experience and share the skills I’ve learned with the bigger mountain bike community, and help some of them to know the magic of being on stage.”