Once a traditional heritage of India, the charm of Indian circuses is slowly waning. Meanwhile, in Canada, we have in Cirque Du Soliel an example of how circus can become a contemporary art form as well as a flourishing business
Story One: Wintuk
Jamie is a bright young boy who lives in an imaginary city where winter has brought intense cold but no snow. He falls head over heels for a girl who spends her time taunting him with silly games. One day the girl is kidnapped by ice giants. Jamie embarks on a journey to an imaginary place in the north called Wintuk to free the young girl and bring the snow back to where it belongs.
Story Two: CRISS ANGEL Believe
Criss Angel is a surreal, enigmatic Victorian noble. He is on a path of ‘imaginative exploration,’ which reveals the inventive mind of Criss as he hovers between the land of the living and a surreal world.
If you think these stories are straight out of Hollywood potboilers, then think again. They are circus acts. They are recent productions of Cirque Du Soleil, a $600 million company that virtually reinvented circus as we know it!
Cirque combines unbelievable stunts with the latest technology, and the audience does not think twice before spending on tickets priced from $40 to $150.
Cut away to Indian circus. And what comes to mind? A smelly old tent? A few moth-eaten animals? Poorly dressed clowns and acrobats performing under a dirty tent?
Obviously, it is time to reinvent and rejuvenate Indian circus. And if you were to be interested in this revival, then there is no better point to start than study the success of Cirque Du Soleil.
What is Cirque de Soleil?
In the early eighties, a band of 20 street performers roamed the streets of Baie-Saint-Paul near Quebec City in Canada, walking on stilts, juggling, dancing, breathing fire, and playing music. They performed under the name of Baie-Saint-Paul Stiltwalkers, a street theatre group, which included Guy Laliberté who went on to become the founder of Cirque. This troupe created the La Club des Talons Hauts (The High Heels Club) and organized a cultural event for street performers, La Fete Foraine de Baie-Saint-Paul, for three consecutive years from 1982. The event attracted plenty of attention for the group. It was then that Guy Laliberté, Gilles Stecroix, and others started thinking of creating a circus that would travel the around the world.
In 1984, when Quebec City was celebrating the 450th anniversary of Canada’s discovery, Guy proposed a show called the Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun), which was accepted by the organizers. Thus, Cirque was formed! Laliberté became co-founder and president along with his partner Daniel Gauthier.
Cirque, which began its operations with 73 employees, now has around 4000 people including about 1000 artistes working for it. The rest are involved in various areas like art, direction, production, stage settings, lightings and special effects, music, trainers, IT, and marketing. It has performed before 80 million spectators in 200 cities across five continents, and by the end of 2008 plans to have 17 different shows performing around the world.
From the start, the company has been renowned for coming up with innovative acts that were different from what people saw in traditional circuses. The shows presented by Cirque are based on a central theme bringing together different circus arts, theatre, and ballet from around the world, and avoids the use of animals.
In an email to DARE, Tania Orméjuste of Cirque Du Soleil shared how a typical Cirque show is created:
|Cirque du Soleil |
Revenue: US$ 600 million
Founder: Guy Laliberté
Employees: 4000, including approx.
IT expenditure – CA$ 130 million over 10 years (CA$ 1 = Rs. 41 at current prices)
“The creative process for a new Cirque du Soleil show takes two to three years depending on whether it is a touring show or a resident show. Resident shows take longer because we are not only designing the show, but also designing the performance space (the theatre). We first select the principal members of the creative team starting with the director of creation, the stage director (who usually writes the show) and the production manager. This team will develop a preliminary idea for the show with Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix (now Senior Vice-President of the Creative Content Division). Then others will be brought into the project: set designer, costume designer, composer, choreographer, lighting, sound, audiovisual, puppets and other designers depending on the nature of the production. The casting department is involved at a very early stage because they will offer two services: they identify talent (acrobatic and artistic) from around the world and they also collect ideas and images from around the world. This helps the stage director and other designers to flesh out the concept of their show.
“At each step of the way, there is considerable brainstorming involved: the creators meet and toss around many ideas, with the stage director taking the lead, and then they go their own ways to develop their individual designs and bring them back to the creative table. There is constant feedback flowing between the stage director and the director of creation (who coordinates all of the creative efforts in association with services such as casting and training) with all of the other designers. The final concept of a show will have evolved immensely from its original embryonic idea. Generally, the artistes who are selected to perform in a new show will be brought to the Montreal Studio about eight to nine months before the scheduled première of the show for rehearsals.
“There is no recipe for our success, really. One thing has not changed throughout the 24 years of our short history, and that is the intention of touching the audience and expressing emotions with our shows. We want to make the public remember a song, an act, or a character from our shows because it meant something to them. Our shows have a strong evocative power and that could be why they are successful worldwide. The storyline is not obvious; we do not wish to impose it on the public. We want them to take away their own interpretation of what they see. The result is a show which everyone can relate to, no matter where people are from.”
Cirque Du Soleil has had a major role to play in promoting what is known as cirque nouveau or contemporary circus. Cirque nouveau is a performing art form developed in the later 20th century in which a story or a theme is conveyed through traditional circus arts. This kind of circus does not involve animal acts. Human performers narrate the story with the help of live music, props, and magnificent sets.
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