We’re Off and Running, Part 1:
Le Cirque Réinventé, Part 1 (1987)

A few weeks ago, as I was flipping through a few classic Cirque du Soleil programme books (as is my wont), I was happily caught off-guard by a brief history of the company that it had written about itself in Saltimbanco’s original European Tour programme, published sometime in 1996. Not because the historia was in English, French, and Spanish, but rather I found the wording a bit more colorful… haughty… than what you’d find from the company today. Something about its whimsical and heady nature spoke to the way Cirque du Soleil saw itself then (think: the voice-over narration in “Alegría: The Truth of Illusion” documentary video: “When the time has come and when the time is right, somehow you know. Time after time and time again, you’ve seen the signs and wondered what it was out there, deep in the river. Was it hell on earth and fading into the sky? Was it the garden of delights? In the heart of the night, you’ve seen the moon and the shadow of light, the spirit of creation, the spirit of dream… you’ve seen the truth of illusion…”), containing a youthful verve and arrogance that is simply no longer present. When did Cirque lose this dynamic sense of self, this liveliness, and vivacity about its past, present, and future? Unfortunately, not long after. Thereafter the speak becomes less joie de vivre and more lié aux affaires, and Cirque du Soleil turns from a rag-tag band of street performers into a bona fide corporate entity right before our very eyes. This is not a new revelation – far from it in fact – but this re-discovery struck a chord of curiosity within…

How did others see Cirque du Soleil during this period?

Think about it: as Cirque’s multitude of shows travel around the globe in either arenas or under the big top, at each stop, in each city, there is a write-up in the local press. Sometimes the coverage is just a brief blurb about the show and its theme, occasionally there’s a short interview with a performer, a stage hand, or creation director, and other times it’s an assessment of the show itself, evaluating its technical and acrobatic merits with what had come through before. But the reviews we see today are too current, discussing these shows through a contemporary lens; shows that have/had 15 to 20 years touring the globe, shows we would refer to as “classic” or “signature”. What I’d become interested in knowing was what some of the first reviews, peeks, and evaluations of these shows were as they took their first steps across North America. How did the press see Le Cirque du Soleil in 1998, 1994, 1990, 1987?

It was time to peck through the archives.

What I found was extraordinary, and more than I expected. Beginning this month we’re sharing these discoveries here in Fascination through a series of collections, beginning with the 1987 tournée of Le Cirque du Soleil (better known today as Le Cirque Réinventé), and continuing on from there!

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by Michelle Sheaff | Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph
July 22, 1987

In March 1984, they walked out of their office jobs and walked into the circus school in London. Now the British duo the Andrews fly 40 feet above the ring in the Cirque du Soleil in a breath-taking aerial acrobatics routine.

What moved them to do it?

“Boredom,” says Andrew Watson, 27, a former import byer.

“Snap! adds Jacqueline Williams, 23, who worked in income tax. “It was a boring and petty job. The system seems to encourage them”

After three years, both say they have no regrets even though circus life has both good and bad sides.

“It’s really a free life,” Watson says. “You make your shows, which you have to do. But they’re pretty fun to make anyway.”

They both love to travel, and they have performed in Moscow, West Germany, Paris, and soon in California. But they say being on the road has a lot of drawbacks.

“I like to have a base camp to keep all my things in,” says Williams. “Now I’m scattered all over the place and I don’t feel good about that.”

Watson says he’s tired of having only new friends. “Just when you get to know somebody you have to move on again,” he says.

Although making rapid foot and hand changes on the stationary trapeze and swinging from stunt ropes is dangerous, the Andrews say they are never afraid when they are performing.

“When you haven’t worked for a while, it starts creeping into your mind that it’s dangerous,” Watson says. “I start wondering what it would feel like to fall. But when you’re doing it, you don’t think about it.”

The Andrews work without a net or safety lines because they say it affects their performance.

“You start thinking you can rely on your safeties instead of yourself,” Watson explains.

Although they have experienced minor problems like ropes slipping before their time, they have never had any accidents.

The best moment of their career was at the Festival mondial du cirque de demain (World Circus of Tomorrow Festival) in Paris. Having just started, they went on to win the bronze medal in the aerial acrobats contest.

“We expected to make the first round and get knocked out, and then watch the rest of the festival,” Watson says. He took the trapeze down five times because he didn’t expect to win the round.

It was in Paris that the Andrews met Guy Caron, the artistic director of the Cirque du Soleil, the Zhaos, and Swiss slack-wire artist Masha Dimitri. By coincidence, the artists all ended up becoming part of the Cirque du Soleil.

“The circus festival was our lucky break,” says Williams.

Watson says another of their greatest moments was the first standing ovation they received at the premiere in LaSalle.

Williams says they have been building gradually their routine.

“When you try something new, you have to give it 100 percent, even if you do it wrong,” Watson says. “If you try half-heartedly, you’ll never succeed.”

An interesting part of the Andrews’ routine is when Williams supports Andrew’s weight.

Williams says they do it because it’s more unusual to have the woman holding up the man. “It’s funny when there are a lot of feminists in the audience, you can really tell,” she says, although she doesn’t do it to mark a point for women’s liberation.

The switch permits Watson to be more creative. “In most acts, the man is just part of the trapeze,” he says.

* * * * *

by: Michelle Sheaff | Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph
July 22, 1987

No lions, tigers, or elephants roam the ring of the Cirque du Soleil. But the absence of animals is largely made up for in amazing acrobats, loveable clowns and magical special effects.

As soon as the trapdoors open and mystical silhouettes climb out in clouds of colored mist, the spectators are carried away into an enchanted dreamland.

The Cirque du Soleil is a sci-fi circus – a modern-day, uniquely Canadian re-invention of the original-style circus.

Three hundred twenty tons of equipment is required to create this high-tech fantasyland. Baroque elves creep out of the floor, iridescent parasols float in the air, dumpy old maids transform into beautiful fairies. All that’s missing is Rod Sterling’s creepy voice: “You are now entering the Twilight Zone…”

Artistic Director Guy Caron’s and Producer Franco Dragone’s ethereal creation is enhanced by a truly effective musical score by composer René Dupéré. The soundscapes he creates move the spectator and mark the tone of the acts: eerie, light, lilting, or laced with suspense.

Acrobats from around the world join under the Big Top to perform breath-taking acts. Each number is as unbelievable as it is beautiful. Difficulty of execution is matched by aesthetic research. Whether on bikes, chairs, slack wire, teeter boards, or 30 feet up in the air, every hair-raising stunt becomes a human sculpture.

Comedy relief is amply provided by Benny Le Grand, an adorable clown with many faces, and an absolutely hopeless magician. He merrily involves his audience and ruthlessly pokes fun at his victims. Benny is joined in his shenanigans by many other clowns who keep the action going between acts.

The Cirque du Soleil began with a handful of street performers earnest to keep their art alive. They formed the Club des Talons Hauts (High Heels Club) in 1981 and organized fairs in Baie-St-Paul for three seasons. In 1984, in the cadre of the 450th anniversary celebration of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada, the club was given a mandate to form Canada’s own traveling circus.

The blue and yellow big top, 150 feet in diameter and six-stories high, went up for the first time at the Old Port. Since then, the circus has performed across Canada, in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver at Expo’86, and won the bronze medal at the World Circus of Tomorrow Festival in Paris.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Cirque du Soleil returns to the Vieux Port de Quebec, with a new program. Afterwards, the circus is off the make its first appearance in the United States at the gala opening of the Los Angeles Festival.

* * * * *

by: Mark Abley | Toronto Saturday Night
August 8, 1987

If you were president of an expanding firm with 85 full time employees, more than 300 part time workers, and a budget of 5.4 million, you might worry about the distance separating you from your company’s daily production. Many executives accept such alienation as a natural consequence of success. But if you’re a Montrealer by the name of Guy Laliberté, you take immediate corrective action. You leave your office (a stone Victorian firehall overlooking the St. Lawrence River) and head down to a section of the Old Port given over to entertainment. There you strip off your normal business attire – a green safari shirt, white slacks, and somewhat disreputable sneakers – and outfit yourself in baggy Oriental trousers, a sleeveless vest, and a white headband. Then you run barefoot, into a tented arena and, as the spotlight narrows on your blond head and chattering crowd falls silent, you breathe a column of flame twenty feet into the air.

Guy Laliberté is the cofounder, chief executive officer, and occasional fire breather of Le Cirque du Soleil, a Montreal troupe that enriches the standard North American concept of a circus with European artistry, Chinese discipline, and Quebec verve. Laliberté is an example of Quebec’s new generation of audacious businessmen; he’s also an accordion player, a stilt walker, a magician, and a juggler. Like the jongleurs of medieval Europe, he can improvise a wealth of amusements. He tempers his smoldering romanticism with shrewdness: “Everything is possible – as long as you work for it. People are so much in need of happiness, and at Le Cirque, we define ourselves as the merchants of happiness.”

This year Le Cirque du Soleil expects to market happiness to about 280,000 customers. Yet its boss was never one of those kids who yearn to run away with the circus. “Basically,” he claims, “I don’t like circuses. What I like is the art of performance.” Bon in 1959 in Quebec City, he grew up near Mont-St-Bruno, an extinct volcano east of Montreal. His father, a vice president of Alcan, provided Laliberté with pragmatism and entrepreneurial flair; his mother, a gifted pianist, instilled in him her perfectionist spirit and her love of the arts. “When I was a boy,” he says, exhaling the spoke of a Gitane, “I used to climb up the mountain and watch the red sun setting behind Montreal. It was so beautiful! Then at night, I’d have this recurrent dream of the city disappearing under the St. Lawrence. Sometimes, and I can’t explain it, I have that dream still.”

As a teenager, Laliberté expected to become a scientist. Buy the year he spent travelling around Europe, 1978-9, hooked him on street performing, and during a Hawaiian winter he mastered the art of fire-breathing. “For a lot of people,” he observes, “fire is synonymous with death. But you can also use it as a friend. I was never a great performer, but I had the facility to learn things fast.” Laliberté admits that after breathing fire, his mouth feels like an old motor. “Yet to do it well,” he says,” is a thrill – and also a meditation.”

To his father’s dismay, he abandoned all thoughts of a university education or a conventional career. In 1981, he helped to found Le Club des Talons Hauts: the “High Heels Club,” an itinerant troupe that toured Quebec in an old school bus and performed on stilts. A year later, in Baie-St-Paul, he and a former teacher named Robert Lagueux organized a festival of street entertainments and circus acts. A wild dream was growing in Laliberté’s head: to create a new breed of circus, spectacular yet poetic, for adults and children alike.

The dream took flesh in 1984, when Laliberté and Lageux won a contract from the Quebec government to organize the best street performers in the province. The High Heels CLub became the basis of a full-fledged circus. “I knew,” Laliberté recalls, “that I had to choose a name that would last forever, a name that would suggest energy and youth and power. So I thought: why not the sun?” From the beginning, Le Cirque du Soleil made bold symbolic use of light and fire, shunned animal acts, and set out to redefine the circus as blood brother to theatre.

Nurtured by Laliberté, the company toured Ontario for the first time in 1985, and last year was a smash hit at Expo 86 in Vancouver; in September it will open the Los Angeles Festival, which also features work by such celebrated artists as Peter Brook, Ingmar Bergman, and John Cage. “Everything is possible,” Laliberté insists: “it’s just a question of working for it.” His only major setback was an attack of meningitis, which forced him to cut byack on his fire-breathing. While Laliberté continues to hire most of his performers from Quebec, Le Cirque now employees acrobats and jugglers from as far afield as Argentina, Poland, and China.

It’s rapid development in three years has amazed almost everybody except Laliberté. “Growth was one of my targets,” he says calmly. “I didn’t know exactly how he would do it, but I always knew it was possible. And who knows maybe Le Cirque du Soleil will only be the seed of something else?” For a moment, the expert fundraiser gives way to the boyish visionary: “I want to spend two years on a sailboat going around the world. Then I want to meet some extraterrestrials…” he stops and grins, his imagination kindled. “I’m still after the big dreams.”

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By: Janice Arkatov | LA Times
September 02, 1987

The Los Angeles Festival officially opens Thursday with a very ’80s update of an antique entertainment form–the Big Top.

But not your average, everyday three-ring circus. Within the confines of its 1,550-seat tent on a downtown lot at 1st and Alameda streets, the 30-member French-Canadian circus troupe Cirque du Soleil hopes to reshape the roadshow-and-sawdust tradition of the circus with modern technology.

It is circus as drama, with a story from beginning to end, original music and special effects along with the traditional clowns, bicycle acts and wire walkers.

“It is a circus show in a theatrical dimension, played in the universal language of mime, movement and music,” said comic “conductor” Denis Lacombe, 30, during a break last weekend from the troupe’s preparations for Thursday’s debut.

Joining Lacombe were Masha Dimitri, 23 (who performs on the slack wire), Amelie Demay, 19 (who with partner Eric Varelas does a balancing act and a “very sexy” tango), Cirque general manager Normand Latourelle, 31, and publicist Jean Heon, 27.

“In some ways, it’s hard to explain who we are, because we are defining ourselves as we go,” said Latourelle. “We formed around four years ago, when a group of street performers–jugglers, fire-eaters, rope-walkers–decided to put a show together. There was no tradition for the circus in Canada.

“We became very popular, mostly because there was no precedent for it. The show is self-contained and very modern, but also close to the circus of the 1920s, because discovery is all. We want to spread colorful thought, young thought. We always say, ‘We’re a circus, but we’re not a circus.’ ”

In all, seven countries are represented in the group, an eclectic match that manifests itself in performance and decision-making. “Rehearsals take months and months,” Latourelle said, “trying to create something new with 30 people. When you write a play, someone sits down, writes it and gives it to the actors. But for us, there is no scenario at the beginning of rehearsals. We have to work collectively; try to find our way with all the other artists. This is the hard part. So when we tell people that we reinvent the circus, I feel it’s true.”

Is the circus dead? Demay shrugged. “Everyone says the circus is dead–but here it’s alive.”

Added Lacombe, “There are two ways to look at it: first that television killed the circus, because everyone stayed home to watch it on TV. And there’s nothing worse than looking at circus on video. The other thing is that circus is a tradition: It’s what your father did, so you don’t change it–you put on the same costume, the same music, the same act; you don’t change. Meanwhile, all around you TV and cinema are changing.” And still, he claims, old ideas are hard to break. “People ask me what I do. I say ‘I’m a clown.’ They say, ‘Clowns aren’t funny. Everybody knows that.’ ”

One evening in their big top, they claim, will reform even the worst circusphobe.

“The most thrilling emotion you will have will be the poetical, the magic,” said Lacombe. “You will be scared, you will laugh. You will pass through many emotions.”

Adults are definitely included. “It happens all the time,” Heon said. “Parents come in with a kid on each side; they’re doing their duty. The kids are sitting there with their eyes wide open. Suddenly the father and mother are as amazed as the kids. Sometimes more so.”

Said Latourelle, “Whenever the public comes, educated or not educated, 2 years old or 99, everyone has a smile on their face when they leave.”

And the troupe? Do the highs of circus life–the camaraderie, the thrill of performance, the roar of the crowd–outweigh the lows?

“Some people miss having friends, because we are always one to two weeks in a city, then we leave and never see them again,” said Dimitri. “And it is important once in a while to go away (from the company), have your own life.”

For Demay, the worst part is “when you want the show to be good, but your body can’t–the muscles are still tight. You want it in your head, but . . . the good part is travel, friends, all the time being in a new town. A friend told me, ‘Stay with the circus as long as you can.’ ”

For Lacombe, it’s more of a stop-off point. “I’d like to go on to the next sphere of the entertainment business,” he said. “My next goal is cabaret–and then I would like to do cinema, of course.”

In the meantime, all have been kept very busy adjusting to the rigors of life in Los Angeles.

“I can give you two impressions,” said Latourelle. “We’ve been working harder here than in all the other cities put together. All the red tape, the bureaucracy. . . . Life-wise, I think there are too many cars.” (His own rented Mustang convertible is very popular with the troupe.)

“There are too many cars,” said Heon, “And Los Angeles is not easy to get; it’s not obvious. There’s not a precise downtown, a place where things happen. It’s all spread out. But I’m getting around, getting to know the places, having fun.”

The word beach pops up often. Demay, who’d just arrived the day before, has already seen the sand. Dimitri (who “almost got to the beach yesterday”) marveled that “everything is so far away. Also, you think of downtown as businesses, people walking around. But this”–she said gesturing at the gray, empty vista around her–” this is downtown?”

As for Lacombe, “I’m amazed by all the publicity,” he said with a grin. “‘Come to our restaurant and taste our scrumptious meals!’ And Hollywood: I drive in wanting to see the stars, and all my California dreams are bursting– pop pop pop. It’s a town like any other one.”

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By: Richard Stayton | Los Angeles Herald Examiner
September 5, 1987

Once upon a time kids ran off to join the circus.

But those were more innocent times. Nowadays kids run off to join rock bands. Or the Army. No trend-conscious kids with stars in their eyes would ever seriously dream about a circus today.

Or would they?

Beware: Le Cirque du Soleil has come to town – and no one’s safe, including grownups. So consider this a consumer’s warning.

Bolt your doors. Set your alarms. Close the drapes. Plug in a video. Whatever. Just resist the temptation to go in the tent at the corner of Alameda and First in downtown Los Angeles. Ignore the fact that this is the opening production of the Festival. Trust me. Leave town. Now.

You don’t believe me? You say a circus is kids’ stuff?

Granted, their tent isn’t even a big top. It’s a little top. But such simplicity just shows how devious these wily Canadians can be.

For instance you take a seat in the bleachers surrounding their only ring. Everything looks puny by Broadway and Ringling Bros. standars. You note a couple of goofy clowns playing obnoxious, obvious tricks on unsuspecting patrons. One clown caries a bottle of “free Canadian Spring Water”. Anyone int he audience who says he’d like a drink gets drenched. Crude stuff. Easy to see through.

When the ringmaster finally appears in traditional circus garb to begin the show, it could be a pint-sized “Jumbo”. So you yawn. Circus of the Sun? Ha. Circus of Mediocrity is more like it.

But think again. These French Canadians are sly pied pipers. Such amateur routines are designed to make you drop your guard. Even the intimacy – the single ring, the average-sized tent, the unimaginative tricks – is part of their conspiracy.

Soon a green mist drifts across the arena. Shy peasants in modified comedia-del-arte masks emerge from trapdoors and awkwardly examine the ring. Five musicians orchestrate their silhouettes with seductive, haunting synthesizer jazz. Colored lights probe and illuminate the billowing clouds of fog.

And there we are, lost among the clouds. The traditional circus has vanished. Suddenly these baffled peasants are transformed into figures wearing surreal costumes. We recognize the bells of a medieval jester, the bright striped leggings of a Renaissance Harlequin, the plumage of a French Revolutionary. We think of Ariel in Shakespeare’s “Tempest” and Pierrot in Marcel Carne’s haunting film, “Children of Paradise”. The visual tableaux recall Picasso’s sad clowns and Hockney’s glorious opera backgrounds. Too late, you understand: These aren’t “entertainers” – these are extra-terrestrials.

And you’re a goner.

You see, Le Cirque du Soleil is Close Encounters of the Circus Kind. Consider that blue-and-yellow tent to be a flying saucer capable of taking you on long-distance journeys to other galaxies where everyone lives happily ever after.

You don’t believe me? Explain how 12 human beings ride a single bicycle? What briefcase-carrying businessman would allow himself to be catapulted from a teeter-board? Why would four attractive young people choose to balance themselves on seven unbalanced chairs? How can a conductor merely wave batons at a tape-recorder playing the “1812 Overture” and make us laugh so hard? How can two acrobats named Amelie Demay and Eric Varelas do a tango that is simultaneously erotic, sensual, romantic, tender, heartbreaking – and breathtakingly acrobatic?

These aliens from outside our borders have a hidden agenda. They want to enchant us. To make us forget ourselves, our troubles, the times we live in. They want us to be happy.

Beware: They succeed beyond our wildest dreams.

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By: Dan Sullivan | LA Times
September 5, 1987

The advance word on Le Cirque du Soleil, the New-Wave French-Canadian troupe which opened the Los Angeles Festival in high style on Thursday night, was that they had “reinvented the circus.”

There was something a little worrying in the phrase. On the one hand, we’ve had it with tired elephants, unfunny clowns, sullen trapeze acts and morbid sideshows. On the other hand, a circus that isn’t earthy, even a bit coarse, isn’t a circus. You didn’t want some high-minded group in mime makeup reinventing it out of existence.

Not to worry. There’s nothing precious about Le Cirque du Soleil. This is a lean, muscular, one-ring traveling circus playing “under canvas,” as the old-timers did. (The company will be camped on the edge of Little Tokyo for the duration of the festival–big top, cook-tent and all.)

The old-timers knew what they were doing. Something about being under a tent loosens audiences up. You saw, Thursday night, how much went out of the circus experience when the big shows switched to playing sports arenas back in the ’50s.

One thing was missing from the old days: smells. Le Cirque carries no livestock. But its acrobats drip real sweat, you can buy real popcorn in the outside tent, and those seated ringside may get squirted with real Canadian water by a clown named Benny LeGrand. (Some of the people at Thursday’s invitational opening didn’t find this too amusing.)

So it’s a little raucous, as a circus ought to be. And it obeys our prime command as a circus audience: Astonish me. It also obeys our hidden command: Scare me. There’s a moment when a female high-wire artist seems to lose control, 60 feet up in the air, and, oh, God, you can’t look. But you do.

Le Cirque du Soleil speaks to the lower centers, the impulse to gasp, to gawk and to wonder how they do that. Rather than riding horses around the ring, the show has a bicycle act, with the performers leaping from bike to bike and doing incredible “wheelies.”

At one point, 13 people are rolling around the ring on one bike, suggesting some kind of living tree. How do they do that? How much practice did that take?

They make it look easy. But they’re smart enough not to make it look too easy. The chair-balancing number builds slowly, one chair at a time, like a house of cards going up–one breath could bring it all down, and with it the man on top. So you hold your breath.

The focus is much more intense than it would be if this were a sidebar act in a Ringling Brothers extravaganza, with its blaring band and its welter of concurrent skills. Here Le Cirque returns to the European tradition of circus, where one thing happens at a time–and it had better be good.

Nothing mentioned so far, however, gets to the company’s central quality. One hesitates to call it “poetry,” but that’s what it is. Even as a child, I never saw a circus that showed you why Toby Tyler wanted to run off to the circus. This one has it.

Not only do we see the traditional performing skills, executed in a particularly upfront way (as when Eric Varelas and Amelie Demay do their double handstands: pure muscle, pure concentration. We tighten our own neck muscles as they take each other’s weight).

We also see the wonder of possessing such skills. The show has a theatrical frame that’s not just a gimmick. A bunch of ill-coordinated yokels like ourselves blunder into a circus ring and are transformed (smoke effects here) into circus performers–graceful, glamorous, above the laws of gravity.

It’s a whimsy that could be overplayed. It isn’t. There’s an undertone of eeriness here, as there is to many of the show’s images. The chair-balancing number, for instance, features a chair so huge that anyone who clambers onto it shrinks to child size.

Not necessarily a reassuring notion. Again, it’s funny when Denis Lacombe steps up to conduct the “1812” Overture and discovers that his podium is a trampoline, but it’s also the conductor’s nightmare–including losing his pants.

René Dupéré’s synthesizer music also has a dark streak, not playing against the danger of some of the high-wire acts, as the cheerful blare of the traditional circus band does, but playing on our nerves.

So do the lights. Circus lighting is traditionally rather plain. Le Cirque du Soleil molds its performers, throws rainbows on them, back-lights them.

My loudest gasp in fact involved a light change. Not a light trick. Masha Dimitri lay back on the slackwire, the lights switched to a new position from high up and behind, and you suddenly were aware of her as floating in air–only one filament bearing her up.

Interesting that Le Cirque’s directors, Guy Caron and Guy Laliberté, think that their show has “demystified” circus. Actually they’ve remystified it, without taking out the fun. How did they do that?

* * * * *

By: Unknown | Daily Variety
September 8, 1987

The Los Angeles Festival played one of its trump cards early in the game last Thursday, opening the fest with “Le Cirque du Soleil”, a highly dramatic one-ring circus that deftly combined acrobatic skill with theatrical presentation.

Artistic director Guy Laliberté offered an enthusiastic crowd an evening that not only showed a grounding in what may be thought of as traditional circus, but also took the concept much further with a flair for the theatrical and even mysterious. The Canadian import opened on a note of being both an evening of dreams and an evening of the bizarre as a small horde of grotesquely masked patrons entered the stage from behind a white fog. The show made good use of dry ice as much of its stage work was partially shrouded, which not only added to the mysterious appeal but also provided a good groundwork for some optical illusions.

Acts varied from the clowns (Benny LeGrand, Catitan Cactus) to the aerial acrobatics of Andrew Watson and Jacqueline Williams. There was no descrimination between the sexes in this presentation, as women often took as physically demanding roles as men, especially in the tango sequence between Eric Varelas and Amerlie Demay. These two lithe performers alternatively picked each other up, proving feats of incredulous strength. Adding to the fun were the briefcase-toting acrobats along with some gravity-defying bicycle wizardry. Show also made good use of music in each presentation, setting the stage for both lighter moments along with the more mysterious interludes.

The street performing roots of many of these performers were apparent as even the clowning was sophisticated. It nonetheless had an appeal for all ages and opened the L.A. Fest on a positive note.

* * * * *

By: Daniel B Wood | Christian Science Monitor
September 18, 1987

There are no elephants wearing tutus in Le Cirque du Soleil. There are no high-heeled women in bikinis, sprouting ostrich-plumed tiaras. There is only one, small performance ring in a 1,700-seat not-so-Big Top. There is, partly for just those reasons, subtlety, mystery, intimacy. Perhaps most to the point, there is theater. The chair balancing, bicycle pyramids, teeter-board flips, aerial acrobatics, and clowning support a single, performance-long story. Lighting, special effects, costumes, and live music unify this disparate phantasmagoria into one luxurious tableau. The organizers of the first international Los Angeles Festival were so taken with the slick otherworldliness of this young Canadian circus that they made it the centerpiece performance event for opening night and a month’s worth of avant-garde festivities. And sold-out audiences give every indication of wanting to run away with Le Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) when it leaves town Sept. 27.

This was the United States debut of the small (30-member) Montreal troupe in its fourth season that is trying to enrich the standard North American concept of a circus by combining European artistry, Chinese discipline, and a return to the pre-Barnum, one-ring circuses of old.

“You appreciate how difficult and dangerous these acts are because you are not watching them from 5,000 feet away,” says Andrew Watson, one-half of the Andrews, a high-flying trapeze act.

Cirque also tries to give audiences an alternative to the clich’es of circusdom. “We don’t pretend to invent the human performance of the circus,” says artistic director Guy Caron, “but the wrapping, the form and presentation, then tie it together into one theatrical whole – like the opera.”

To begin the evening’s performance, eight shabbily dressed commedia dell’arte personages (characters) appear in kaleidoscopic mist at the tent’s entrances. They wander into the main ring, seemingly astonished to find a waiting audience. As they begin to take turns at amateur entertaining, with handstands and somersaults, a “King of Fools” appears in a pyrotechnic flash, creating a dream in which the participants are turned, one by one, into real acrobats. The show that follows charts the various turns of fate encountered by each.

The theatrical threads that unite these miniplots are lighting, music, costume, and choreography. Masha Dimitri’s slack-wire routine, for instance, is performed as a complement to the whole troupe dancing the tango. The balancing feats are subtle: A young girl seems to discover the delights of the high wire, rather than trying to impress with bravado.

The Planche Sautoir team of teeterboard performers is also painstakingly choreographed. The eight members hop in unison to the music, performing flips while wearing hats and formal tails – and also seem to be just discovering their craft.

Like most circuses, Cirque has its clowns. Probably the hit of the entire show is Denis Lacombe’s “Le Chef D’Orchestre,” which won him a bronze medal at the World Circus of Tomorrow Festival in Paris in 1985. As a crazed music director whose score will not stay on its stand, Mr. Lacombe mounts a rigged stage which allows him to conduct while swaying wildly from side to side, bending forward far enough to touch his nose to the ground without falling over.

Cirque also uses the technology of the ’80s. Music director Ren’e Dup`ere works with nine synthesizers and two electronic drums, composing, arranging, and performing original scores for each act as if it were a film short. Selections span jazz, classical, tango, and rock.

Part of what makes Le Cirque du Soleil’s forays into circus metamorphosis so interesting, says Mr. Caron, “is that there is no tradition for the circus in Canada. We’re trying to create it ourselves.” The Canadian government gave it its start: In 1984, Cirque was 97 percent government-subsidized; now that’s only 10 percent of its $6 million budget.

Le Cirque du Soleil began in 1982 as a group of street artists performing in the village of Baie St. Paul, near Quebec City. Guy Lalibert’e, a fire breather who had worked in Europe and Hawaii, organized them in 1982 into Fete Forrain, a traveling troupe. Three years later, when the Quebec provincial government wanted such a troupe to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the discovery of Canada, they debuted as Le Cirque du Soleil. In 1985 and ’86, the circus toured Canada and last year played at Expo ’86 in Vancouver and at the Vancouver Children’s Festival.

About the time of the 1984 tour, artistic director Caron, a graduate of the highly acclaimed Hungarian Circus School, joined the troupe. In 1980, he had returned home from Hungary to found the ‘Ecole Nationale de Cirque (National Circus School) in Montreal. He handpicks the Canadian performers for the troupe from the school of about 150 students. He tours Europe to find the others.

“When I find them, I tell them they can keep their act the way it is, but they will have to let me package it to fit,” says Caron. “Then we integrate them into the story – it’s not just one day of rehearsal before tours, like the other circuses, but five weeks.”

“This is a very different circus, in that you have to be willing to let the whole performance be the star, not just your own act,” says Masha Dimitri, the slack-wire artist from Switzerland. “It makes for a much better show, though – no one goes back to their caravan to watch TV until it’s time for them to go on, because everyone is helping with the other acts – rolling up carpeting, whatever. It’s more like a theater troupe that way.”

* * * * *

By: Robert J. Hawkins | San Diego Tribune
October 3, 1987

They stumbled out of the eerie light and mist in twos and threes, gawking, gaping, and clinging to each other like gentle escapees from some asylum. Not quite right and not quite all there. They were dressed like a tour group from the Land of Bumpkin, ill-fitting clothes made more so by nervous tugs.

The mist thickened and rolled out into the seats. So did the music, a spellbinding blend of synthesizers and horns. The castaways found each other in the mist and light and darkness, in the center of the ring.

What a strange crew.
What an enchanting way to begin a circus.
What an enchanting circus.

Cirque du Soleil made its San Diego debut last night, with the first of 37 performances in Balboa Park. Under the spell of Marc Proulx – part jester, part sorcerer, part faun, and part Pan – this rag-taggle band undergoes a miraculous transformation to jugglers and acrobats, wire walkers and trick cyclists.

This spell is nothing like the cast on the 1,700 who gathered under the blue-and-yellow striped big top. For nearly three hours, all other worlds ceased to exist.

A reporter looks at a nearly empty notebook and wonders if this night happened at all. So absorbed was he in the beauty of this mystical panopy that note-taking seemed an irritating diversion.

How, he wonders now, do you reconstruct so diaphanous an illusion?

You can’t. How do you describe magic? What words could adequately relay the gamut of emotions that course through the body? The slack-jawed awe, the wide-eyes amazement, the deep belly-laughs, the wince, the startle.

Ah, Cirque du Soleil, you have won still another convert, if not 1,700.

Perhaps it was Amelie DeMay and Eric Varelas and their stunning hand-balancing routine. There’s Eric, flat on his back, hands outstretched. There’s Amelie, upside down, rising perpendicular from the end of his hands. How is that she kept her position as he rolled over onto his stomach, then slipped his body through the opening created by their hands to rise vertically until perpendicular with Amelie?

Perhaps it was Masha Dimitri as she cavorted on the slack wire. Perhaps it was when she lay down on the wire and juggled that sik parasol with her feet.

Perhaps it was Andrew Watson and Jacqueline Williams as they hurtled each other through space while dangling from a bar a hundred feet above the ground, with only the grasp of a wrist to keep them from an ugly plunge.

Perhaps it was the Zhao trio on their twin chrome bikes. More than 20 times around the circle and not once did they repeat the same maneuvers.

And the “Tower on Wheels” – how many people climbed aboard that single bicycle? One person said 12, another counted 11, I swore there were 15 aboard.

Perhaps it was Catitan Cactus and his hilarious karate routine; or Denis LaCombe as the mad, mad, mad conductor; or Benny LeGrand’s no-so-successful escape trick.

Perhaps it was the Devo-esque teeterboard routine.

Perhaps it wasn’t the featured performances at all but the way they were fused together by the acrobatic ensemble of jesters, clowns and innocents. It could have been the richly colorful and imaginative costuming, decidedly European, though not necessarily of this century. Or the stage lighting and music, both contributing textures and sensual landscapes that provide a continuity through the nearly three-hour experience.

No, it is a conversion that comes from all these elements for, obviously, extraordinary attention has been given to each.

Cirque du Soleil starts slowly, gently, with the most fundamental of performances, a little juggling and spoofing by clowns. From there it builds seamlessly, relentlessly, toward a climax that rivals fine theater. It is a ride not to be missed. But if you enter into this mystical world, hang onto your seat.

Cirque du Soleil comes to San Diego after a triumphant US Debut at the Los Angeles Festival. The circus is in Balboa Park; performances have been scheduled through Oct 18.

* * * * *

By: Don Shirley | LA Times
December 16, 1987

Le Cirque du Soleil will return to Santa Monica for at least 15 performances in February.

The French-Canadian circus will perform at the same site, on the beach just north of the Santa Monica Pier, where it appeared in November. Although the run is scheduled for Feb. 4-14, “we don’t know how long we’ll stay,” said Le Cirque’s general manager, Norman Latourelle.

However, Le Cirque is scheduled to perform indoors at the Calgary Olympic Arts Festival in late February, and may take its big top to an undetermined site in San Francisco in early March, so prospects for a long extension of the Santa Monica run are doubtful.

The show will not be an exact re-run of its earlier incarnation (which also played the Los Angeles Festival and San Diego’s Balboa Park as well as the previous engagement in Santa Monica).

Slack wire artist Masha Dimitri has returned to her home in Switzerland and will be replaced by contortionist Angela Laurier. A group of seven Chinese children will do “rola-bola” stunts, a form of balancing, replacing the Zhao Family, three cyclists who have returned to their home in China. And clown Denis Lacombe will perform a couple of new acts, in addition to his “conductor” routine.

* * * * *

By: Don Shirley | LA Times
December 24, 1987

California’s gain is Australia’s loss.

Le Cirque du Soleil’s return to Santa Monica in February, announced last week, was made possible only because Le Cirque, citing increased travel costs and a less than cordial welcome from some Australians, withdrew from its scheduled appearance in January at the Festival of Sydney. Le Cirque also pulled out of a tour through the rest of Australia that would have lasted through May.

The Festival of Sydney may take legal action.

“This was one of the bitterest experiences I’ve ever had,” said the Sydney Festival’s general manager Stephen Hall, adding that Le Cirque was featured in programs that had been printed and in an advertising campaign that had already begun. Last week, the festival’s board met to consider its legal options, but decided to await Le Cirque’s response to a letter sent by the board.

Earlier, “they (Le Cirque) did make an offer of reparations to us, $100,000 (in Australian currency),” said Hall, speaking prior to the board meeting. “But we didn’t think it was adequate.”

“It was our last offer,” Le Cirque’s marketing director Jean David said by phone Wednesday. He added that Le Cirque never signed a contract with Sydney.

“A contract can exist without a document being signed,” responded Hall.

The brouhaha began when the Australian Actors Equity and the country’s Circus Oz, the politicized new-wave outfit which was seen at the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles, objected to Le Cirque’s plans, especially one week in which Le Cirque’s appearance in Sydney would have coincided with a Circus Oz run.

“We were very vulnerable to comparison with them,” said Circus Oz administrator Susan Provan, “and we thought we just couldn’t compete with their promotional campaign.” For example, Provan cited a Circus Oz engagement in Canberra that was scratched when the impresario heard of Le Cirque’s tour and “felt that they would take all the circus dollar there was.”

So Circus Oz asked Le Cirque “to revise their dates and not appear until four to six weeks after we did in any city,” said Provan. When Le Cirque wouldn’t budge, “we lodged a request with the immigration department to put pressure on them to alter their dates.”

The Australian government finally overruled the objections and granted Le Cirque the necessary visas, but by then the air fares had doubled in price (from what Le Cirque had expected to pay), said Le Cirque general manager Norman Latourelle.

Also, “we knew we were not 100% welcome,” he added. “And we didn’t want to compete with them (Circus Oz). Many of our artists used to be competitive athletes, and this is a choice we’ve made: no competition.” Le Cirque’s use of one ring illustrates this attitude; no one has to compete for the audience’s attention.

As for the Australian government, “we would still like the Canadians to be there,” said spokesman Terry Bransdon. “We would welcome them to Expo 88,” which will be held in Brisbane, Australia from April 30 to Oct. 30.

# # #

That’s all I have room for in this issue, but there’s plenty more to come!

• Issue #161, JUN 2017 – Le Cirque Réinventé, Part 2 (1988)
• Issue #162, JUL 2017 – Le Cirque Réinventé, Part 3 (1989)
• Issue #163, AUG 2017 – Nouvelle Expérience, Part 1 (1990)
• Issue #164, SEP 2017 – Nouvelle Expérience, Part 2 (1991)
• Issue #165, OCT 2017 – Saltimbanco, Part 1 (1992)
• Issue #166, NOV 2017 – Saltimbanco, Part 2 (1993)
• Issue #167, DEC 2017 – Alegría, Part 1 (1994)
• Issue #168, JAN 2018 – Alegría, Part 2 (1995)
• Issue #169, FEB 2018 – Quidam, Part 1 (1996-1997)
• Issue #170, MAR 2018 – Quidam, Part 2 (1998)
• Issue #171, APR 2018 – Dralion, Part 1 (1999-2001)
• Issue #172, MAY 2018 – Dralion, Part 2 (2001-2003)
• Issue #173, JUN 2018 – Varekai, Part 1 (2002)
• Issue #174, JUL 2018 – Varekai, Part 2 (2003-2004)
• Issue #175, AUG 2018 – Varekai, Part 3 (2005)