Cirque Du Soleil Innovates On Stage and in The Dressing Room

by Derek Holser, Tastemaker in Residence

Modern entertainment is more diverse and customized than at any point in human history. Technology allows for audio and video recording, duplication, and transmission almost instantaneously to billions of people. Some days it may feel like the advent of virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence is about to doom us all to a life inside The Matrix or vicariously existing through robots in human form like Bruce Willis in Surrogates.

Sorry, I know The Matrix is a better film, but Bruce is just cooler than Keanu.

While older folks like me bemoan the isolation-inducing, socially debilitating effects of 24/7 “screen time”, the truth is there are still plenty of avenues and audiences for the same kind of old-fashioned entertainment produced by the Bard of Avon himself over 400 years ago.

In fact, live theater and dance continues to pack community centers and symphony halls all over the world. Broadway is known for dynamic productions, suspenseful encounters, mysteries, comedies and tragedies, as well as the occasional pyrotechnic ensemble. 

While some plays last for decades (The Phantom of the Opera has been running for 28 years), most don’t last a single year. Over the last decade, the average show on Broadway lasted only 131 performances. Why some plays run longer.

When a show goes on an extraordinary run, it’s worth noting, and more importantly, worth studying. Why did it succeed? Was it the actors? The dialogue? The set? Some combination of all three, perhaps?

More curious still, at least to me, is how a dance program/performance theater/audience interactivity spectacle became so successful it transcended entertainment, spawned franchises all over the world, and continues to sell-out shows in its fourth decade.

Since its first act in 1984 to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada to its most recent show Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, Circque Du Soleil has been an avant garde revelation for audiences everywhere. The very first show is described by the Cirque Du Soleil website as follows:

The show was a striking, dramatic mix of circus arts (without animals) and street performance that featured wild, outrageous costumes, magical lighting, and original music. He dubbed it Cirque du Soleil because, in his own words, “The sun symbolizes youth, energy, and strength.” Cirque du Soleil history

Emphasis added. Wild, outrageous costumes remain a key element of Cirque, and believe it or not, a functional aspect of the show as well.

The costumes are elaborate, expensive and extraordinary. Yet, they are more than mere showpieces. The marriage of form and function found in the wardrobe department of Cirque is nothing short of miraculous. Just like high-performance auto racing brings innovation that can be applied to everyday passenger vehicles, so the demands of dramatic tumbling, contorting and cavorting brings design elements and fabrics that can be woven into business suits, leisure wear and formal fashion.

This Tuesday, August 16, as part of the Quebec Festival Mode & Design Conference, an incredible workshop is available. Led by Mark DeCoste, who has 25 years of experience in theatrical costume design, the Cirque Du Soleil Costume Workshop provides behind-the-curtain exposure to understanding how dancers and actors and tumblers maneuver as seamlessly as though they were dressed only in birthday suits. This session is valuable not just for an understanding of spatial requirements and viscosity in fabric, but of the need to keep style fresh and functional in the performing arts. 

Even more, for those at The Spirited Table, this workshop is a reminder that no matter how many times videos and video games draw us away from each other, there will never be a replacement for the explosive creativity of the human spirit.