Cirque at the Masters: A Q&A Review


It was well into the evening by the time I had returned home from work, and little did I know that something special was waiting for me within my email inbox. It was a Wednesday evening in late October as I recall, and I wasn’t too anxious to check my email that night. I’m not sure why, but it had been a tiring day on the job and all I really wanted to do was relax for a bit without the fuss of answering incoming mail or navigating a bunch of spam messages. But I checked it anyway. And there it was; the reply I had been waiting for…

On October 23, 2003, Cirque du Soleil La Nouba and Cirque Club released a statement to its members — an invitation to a Question & Answer session with artists at the Cirque du Soleil Theater at Downtown Disney’s West Side in Orlando, Florida. The first 500 respondents to this special invite would be able to attend the event taking place on Saturday, November 8th, during the weekend long Festival of the Masters art celebration at Downtown Disney. The notice came during the day; I was at work and completely unawares.

Imagine the shock when I received the message, and realized it was hours after it had been made public. Certainly there’d be no way for me to attend this special session now, as hundreds of thousands of people are members of Cirque Club and no doubt at least 500 of them (or more) responded. But I sent in a reservation request anyway. My hopes rested on the nice people at Cirque Club and my quaint reply: “Here’s hoping I’m one of the 500 respondents”.

A week passed and there was still no reply. I had given up hope that I had somehow squeaked in; that I was the 500th respondent. At 10:45pm on Wednesday October 29th, I was not in the best of spirits. But something was about to happen that could change all that.

I received a reply from Cirque Club.

My eyes darted over the contents of the email quickly. What did they have to say — were they full? My eyes fell over the first line: “Hi there Ricky!” That was a promising start… most people just call me Richasi, which is just fine by me, but I was shocked to get a personal response. My eyes dashed below the salutation and for a moment I was ready for the worst. “Actually, we’re already full,” the message read. Yeah, I was prepared for that. No problem, I thought, there’d be other times. “But, under the circumstances,” the message continued, “we are willing to make an exception just for you!”

What? Did I read that correctly?

Yes, thanks to the lovely ringmasters at Cirque Club, I and two guests — Paul Keila, a friend of mine from Tampa, Florida who has seen La Nouba, but hasn’t has his horizons expanded by other Cirque performances yet; and Cedric Pansky, originally from Denver, Colorado but now living in Orlando, Florida and is largely responsible for introducing me to Cirque du Soleil) — were squeezed into a slot and before I knew it we were on our way to a wonderful afternoon with Cirque du Soleil artists!

Since we are based in Orlando we didn’t have to travel far to take part in this experience. A 20-minute trip in the car and we were standing in front of the massive Cirque du Soleil castle. But, let’s dispense with the personal narrative and get on with the reporting.

Festival of the Masters is Disney’s acclaimed annual showcase of art, culture and cuisine and has been running in Downtown Disney for the past 28 years. “Some 150 award-winning visual artists will transform Downtown Disney into a vast outdoor gallery with an entertaining mix of fine arts, live entertainment, delicious food and fun for the whole family,” says the Disney press release on the event, and Cirque du Soleil was one of those artists.

For their part, Cirque presented special acts on the Friday and Saturday afternoons of the festival — Diabolos, Cycles, German Wheel and Trampoline — outside of the theater under the big Cirque du Soleil logo on a makeshift performance space of carefully laid-out and meticulously cleaned carpeting. Cirque also offered face-painting opportunities with their make-up artists and a small peek at props and costumes from their resident show La Nouba.

Fascination!’s involvement in the affair was only the Question & Answer period scheduled for the CirqueClub members, but imagine my surprise when I walked up to the building and found actual performances staged for the public eye! (I hadn’t known about these beforehand.)

The first one was the German Wheel twins, Bruce and Stacey Bilodeau, both long-time alumni of Cirque du Soleil. The pair were displaying the intricacies of the German Wheel discipline by performing various tricks — like setting up the wheel, jumping in and out, standing on top, spinning the wheel, and various other snippets of their live performance. All the while the pair were speaking to a relatively large-sized audience getting laughs from their jokes and applause for their antics. I found Bruce and Stacey to be wonderful spokesmen for Cirque’s Festival of the Masters outing, as they were gracious (thanks for the picture guys!) and fun to watch!

The second performance was the Diabolos, performed by four wonderfully talented and cute girls from China. This performance was more structured than Bruce and Stacey’s German Wheel thanks in part to the girls’ coach, which dictated jabout every move they made. The girls flipped, tossed and handled their Diabolo’s with exquisite timing and precision, only having lost the diabolo once or twice due to the wind. But when the wind died down, and “Jardin Chinois” playing in the background, the girls gave the audience an extra special treat… they performed their entire routine from start to finish. What a way to finish!

Inside, Cirque du Soleil provided to the select few a third performance: the Question & Answer period. This was the event I was waiting for — the chance to step inside the La Nouba theater without having to pay for the privilege; to see the theater lit without its ambient lighting; to sit with 500 other Cirque du Soleil fans and watch as the questions flew. I was also anxious to know who would join us, as even the guests were kept secret from the group.

Stepping into the theater without the show’s ambient lighting makes for a world of difference. Steel structures come out in full glory where only darkness was before. Catwalks are fully visible where only slight glimpses could be seen. And doors and hallways illuminated where I had not expected them to be. Through all the lost illusion though, seeing the theater this way was exciting and my eyes were everywhere — to the ceiling, the stage, the set — everywhere. They couldn’t drink in the sights fast enough but saw plenty never-the-less. (Including a new high-wire artist being trained.)

More to the point were the artists that volunteered (or were selected) to take part in this special Q&A. They were Benoit Glazer, Band Leader, Trumpet and Keyboard player from Canada; Stacey Bilodeau, German Wheel artist from the United States; and Ginger Ruiz, Tissue artist from the USA. The three were accompanied by a La Nouba press agent and watchdog. She was present only to make sure the artists didn’t answer a very sensitive question.

Now, one might expect that a room full of Cirque du Soleil fans would generate some very interesting questions. And, perhaps if this were the Cirque du Soleil Yahoo Group that would have been the case. As it was, many of the questions asked of the artists were general: What do you do for Cirque, do you like your job (the answer was always “why, of course we do!”), what is your background, where did you study, and the like. I almost cheered at one patron who asked how much the performers make in salary, but our watchdog headed off that question.

As for yours truly, did he ask any questions? No, I did not. And you know, I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, it was the perfect venue to ask some really pressing questions, like how Cirque plans to answer charges of discrimination and why ticket prices always seemed to be on the rise. But, in the end, all I ended up confirming was that Benoit Jutras was composing more music for Cirque du Soleil projects, and that information was volunteered.

In the end, even if the questions weren’t the most thought out or in-depth I can safely say that Paul, Cedric and I did have a good time. I mean, how often do you get to interact with Cirque du Soleil artists or see performances for free?

I want to send my thanks, yet again, to the ring mistresses of Cirque Club who made the VIP session possible. Without you I would have been standing outside!