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?
Time to peck through the archives!
What I found was extraordinary, and more than I expected. So starting next month we’ll begin sharing these discoveries here in the pages of 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 onward in the following manner…
• Issue #160, MAY 2017 – Le Cirque Réinventé, Part 1 (1987)
• 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)
But let me warn you right now… there’s a lot of text here. We’re looking at around 230 pages from 120 different articles. Some make me shake my head while others I’ve learned something new from. They’re all here, well, mostly. So while it’ll take some time to get through them, I hope you’ll stick around until the end. They’re all fascinating. It’s quite interesting to see what each reviewer focuses on while glossing over other aspects of shows we know so well. Some of their descriptions are hilarious! Oh, and the original bit of text that started me down this rabbit hole? Find it below. May it serve to whet your appetite for more interesting texts, reviews, interviews, and critiques from classic Cirque du Soleil productions on their original tours across North America that’s to come!
If you wander north along the mighty Saint Laurence, beyond Montreal and Quebec City, you will hap upon a quiet little town nestled deep in the heart of a valley. It all began here, in Baie Saint Paul. Enveloped in magic, the story of an enchanting circus unfolds. So listen closely and I will tell you a tale that will surely hold you in thrall.
One mid summer’s day in 1982, excitement was brewing in Baie Saint Paul as eager anticipation grew. From far and near, folk poured into the town. The streets were decorated, gaily festooned, a carnival ground for jugglers, tumblers, jester, and buffoons. Guy Laliberte performed his fire-eating act, Gilles Ste-Croix proved a fearless acrobat, leaping, bounding, and soaring through the air, while others walked the tightrope to the clamor of fanfare.
The band of merry companions, or the Club des Talons Hauts, were hatching a clever plan, plotting playful antics, nimble feats and wily shenanigans. Perched high on their stilts above the mirthful crowd, they caught a glimpse of the future through a break in the clouds. It came to them like a vision – the emblem of the sun. They held a mystical power to dazzle and make fun. They would perform under a big top and call themselves the Cirque du Soleil. For soleil is the world for sun en francais.
WITH WIND IN THEIR SAILS
It was in 1534 when Jacques Cartier beached upon the rugged Canadian shores. Exalted by his valiant voyage across the sea, he raised high his banner and staked this land, claiming the New World in the name of France. Proudly he flaunted the fleur-de-lys, the cherished emblem of French heraldry.
In 1984, four hundred and fifty years after that historic day, the province of Quebec celebrated its rich ancestry. Fantasy was added to the festivity under the pinwheel canopy yellow and blue. People were drawn to the big top, flocking in numbers, seduced by the performance. The crowd was wooed by the fledgling troupe. It was a roaring success, its engines were fueled. Now Cirque du Soleil was eager to conquer the world.
After taking Quebec and Ontario by storm, Cirque ventured west to the Pacific coast. At the opening ceremonies of Expo’86, onlookers were mesmerized by the spectacular tricks. By this time the Grand Chapiteau had expanded to twice its original size. At every turn, Cirque was decorated with medallions, at every twist, awarded a prize.
It then set its sights on American towns, delighted Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Monica with tumblers and clowns. Spectators were riveted, the applause thundered – it brought the house down.
CITIES BEGUILED, CITIES BEWITCHED
For this sorcerous troupe, in the prime of its youth, the moment of truth had come. Gingerly treading on American soil, Cirque du Soleil would ne’er recoil, for each city it descended upon to its magic would succumb. It gently drew back its bow, releasing its arrows on Santa Monica and San Francisco. Then onto New York and Washington, here it captured the hearts of everyone. After dazzling Miami, Chicago, and Phoenix (1988), its presence graced once again Californian cities and everywhere in betwixt (1989).
Had we seen it all? No! T’was merely the start. A troupe of performers from Cirque du Soleil crossed the Atlantic to present Cirque Reinvente. “Circus tames London, courts Paris,” the headlines read. Meanwhile, back in Montreal, the masterminds were secretly weaving golden thread. The latest creation, Nouvelle Experience, emerged from their filigree. The Grand Chapiteau now could hold 2500 or more; it crisscrossed North America with Nouvelle Experience, bewitched 13 cities and 1.3 million spectators.
THE PHANTASMAGORIC OVERTURE
Gipsy in spirit, Bohemian by nature, Cirque du Soleil was spurred on by more lust for adventure. In a single beat, Cirque leaped to perform three orchestral movements before spellbound audiences on three different continents (1992-1994):
• Andante in the Land of the Rising Sun. Cirque touched down on Asia to offer Fascination 118 times in four months. Tokyo, along with eight other cities cross Nippon, was dazzled by the brilliance of the circus sun (1992).
• Crescendo on the Alps. The artists of Cirque du Soleil attained astonishing heights when they flew with the renowned circus Knie. For nine wondrous months they travelled the Helvetian roads, mesmerizing all those who had come out to see (1992).
• Vivace in the USA. Cirque was beckoned by Las Vegas to revel in never-ending night; it created quite a sensation amid the glittering lights. Twelve months had passed and the die was cast. Fate decreed that Cirque would stay, perform on Treasure Island, the newest palace in the paradise of play. The troupe introduced to Las Vegas the magic of Mystère (1993), the pinnacle of troubadours and the medieval carnival fair.
Bravissimo! Ovations and praise echoed around the globe. Now was the time to score a new symphony, reveal the mystery of Alegría and Saltimbanco.
THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
The ringmasters were aroused when visited by an elusive creature in their mind’s eye. The image was faint, but would soon come to life as they carved and facetted, dabbed on the colors from their jewel-tone palette. After masterfully adding the crowning touches, they were finally ready to lay down chisels and brushes. In honor of the spirited street tumblers of long ago, they unveiled their latest work, an alluring creation they called Saltimbanco.
Ten years had gone by since Cirque was born. The time was right to introduce Alegría to Montreal (1994). Velvets were embroidered for this celebration, eerie arias composed to mark the occasion. Donning ethereal costumes studded with jewels, all were waiting for Alegría to fly from its silken cocoon.
Alas! Alegría sprouted its wings and so took flight. Migrating south to the United States (1994-1995), it scouted for new places to alight. Montreal bid its youngest bairn farewell. Will it ever come back? Only time will tell.
As Montreal wept over the sweet loss of Alegría, Saltimbanco returned. Hallelujah, Hallelujah! The city was beguiled by its prodigal child. Yet, before the infatuation could begin to wane, Saltimbanco prepared its departure, once again (Europe 1994-1995).
Looking hopeful toward the new millennium, Cirque du Soleil silently ponders the pools of the fountain of youth to rejuvenate the springs of its imagination.