As Cirque du Soleil makes its Oman debut with ‘BAZZAR’, Alvin Thomas talks to the show’s choreographer, and finds out how dance delivers for an expectant audience.
Creativity and inventiveness form the heart and soul of a circus.
Every spectacle is composed of a strong suit of performers, directors and art directors – the trinity that lays the foundation for fun-filled evenings of electric shows and performances.
Showers of claps, cheers and whistles greet these performances; letting those behind the performance know that all their hard work and perseverance have paid off.
Behind every successful show lies a group of people that often gets overlooked: choreographers – the creative minds that work towards fusing the eyes, ears, and minds of the viewers.
From orchestrating routines to perfecting them before they’re played out to the crowds, there’s much that goes on behind the scenes of a show.
This week, we head backstage to Cirque du Soleil’s BAZZAR to catch glimpses and speak to Samuel Chouinard, the choreographer of the show, and learn what to expect when the much-anticipated event finally kicks off on March 28.
Here’s an excerpt from our interview
Y: Cirque du Soleil is renowned for its ingenuity and inventiveness in its shows. How are you able to put on a unique show tailored for specific audiences every single time?
Samuel Chouinard: Designing a show specifically to introduce Cirque du Soleil to a totally new audience is a creative challenge. It pushes our creators to find our essence and articulate it in a way that is universally understandable. With its story centered on the creative process and the energy found in the ‘unexpected’, BAZZAR shines a light on what is uniquely Cirque du Soleil. The challenge is always the same: create a show that will be nothing like the audience has ever seen before and we’ve been successful in this matter for more than 30 years!
Y: What are some of the key elements you keep in mind when choreographing a piece?
SC: The most important objective for me as a choreographer is to bring the audience through an emotional journey from the minute the show begins to after they walk outside the Big Top. I feel that the artists onstage are the most important element because it is through their performance on stage that we are made to feel emotion. They arrive on stage with humility, and perform from the heart. The music, costumes, lighting, and makeup are there to support the feeling we are trying to convey.
Y: Mastering the art of audio and visual performance is a difficult task – especially for troupes that travel the world such as you. What are the criteria for training and practice before you enter a show?
SC: Our casting team – composed of some 60 people, including more than 20 talent scouts – does everything in its power to find exceptional artists for current and upcoming Cirque du Soleil productions throughout the world. They play a consulting role with the various creation teams, directors and artistic directors by showing them acts or artists discovered at auditions or scouting activities. The creation teams leave it up to the experts to find the talent that will give each show its unique character.
At Cirque du Soleil, more than 60 per cent of the artists come from a sports background such as gymnastics, trampoline, tumbling, acrosport, diving, martial arts and synchronised swimming. We also hire professional athletes to work behind the scenes. The cast of BAZZAR is showcasing a full range of different disciplines including Mallakhamb for the first time at Cirque du Soleil.
Y: Can you give us a sneak peak of what happens behind the scenes in a Cirque training program?
SC: When the creation starts, we work for seven hours a day and it gradually increases in the last two to three weeks of creation. Some artists could start their day with fitness training. Then, they could train their act individually before the artists, meeting under the Big Top with the creation team. This meeting is followed by a session of creation on stage with dance rehearsal. The artists also have separate make-up training and acting workshops.
When the tour starts, the artists perform around 10 shows a week, including the weekends, which makes their routine extremely hectic.
In order to maintain a balance for a healthy lifestyle, they are provided with fitness training and are all taught breathing exercises. One month before the première, they start training and rehearsing for the shows. The entire Cirque du Soleil team works together to be ready to offer the audience an awe-inspiring experience!
Y: How difficult is it to come up with new concepts for every show – and from where do you draw inspiration when choreographing a new show?
SC: In BAZZAR, the six dancers are from very different and eclectic backgrounds and styles of dance but are all rooted by their “urban” styles. We have hip hop, B girl, contemporary, classical, and acrobatic dance. A real mix of styles! Every time we see dance in the show the dancers change their style so that we never know what we are going to see next from them on stage.