Cirque du Soleil and KNIE, 1992

“1992 — Cirque du Soleil crosses the Pacific and makes a name for itself in the Land of the Rising Sun with Fascination, a collage of the best acts from past shows. The show opens in Tokyo and then moves on to seven other cities, for a total of 118 performances in four months. Meanwhile, in Europe, Cirque du Soleil joins forces with Switzerland’s Circus Knie and stages a show in over 60 towns throughout the country. In North America, 1992 sees Cirque du Soleil make its Las Vegas debut when Nouvelle Expérience kicks off a year-long engagement under a big top at the Mirage Hotel. Already juggling several productions, Cirque du Soleil adds a monument to its repertoire of shows: Saltimbanco. Premiering in Montreal, this latest production begins a lengthy tour of North America.”

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We’ve all seen it. Anyone who has scanned the 24-year history of Cirque du Soleil has come across this paragraph; a footnote in Cirque’s vast history. Fascination. Knie. Nouvelle Expérience. Saltimbanco. When you read the passage it’s hard to deny that 1992 was arguably one of Cirque du Soleil’s most expansive, if not important, years in its early history. Truly, for the first time Cirque du Soleil was going global and I find it an interesting year because it includes some of Cirque du Soleil’s most mysterious ventures: Fascination in Japan and a partnership with KNIE in Switzerland. Over the years fans have shed a lot of light upon Fascination, a combination of Le Cirque Réinventé and Nouvelle Expérience, but little has ever been said about the collaboration with Circus Knie. Until now.

But to understand how historical 1992 had been for Cirque du Soleil, one has to travel back more than 20 years to 1981. That year a new and exciting union of street artists and performers called the “Club des Talons Hauts” (the “High-Heels Club”) was formed. This non-profit company was founded on principle alone: “to promote circus arts and street performers” by banding together to perform for the masses. And in doing so this new organization went on to produce Cirque du Soleil during its earliest performances at Les Echassiers de Baie St-Paul (1981-1983) and Fête Foraine de Baie St-Paul Le Rendez-vous des amuseurs publics (1982-1984)

In June 1984, Cirque du Soleil officially came together in part by contributions and summons by the Québec government. Their name – meaning “Sun Circus” or “Circus of the Sun” – was created by the troupe’s founder and guide Guy Laliberté. Once armed with an identity, Cirque du Soleil came together to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s (1491-1557) arrival. For the festivities, Cirque du Soleil presented a very special show in Gaspé, the same place Mr. Cartier’s voyage took him so long ago as he desperately tried to find a land route through to the Orient. The show was a smash success and the artists, invigorated by its reception, took their creation on the road and visited a handful of cities nearby: Baie-Comeau, Baie St-Paul, Québec, Magog, Hull, and Sorel et Montréal.

Following on the heels of their Grand Tour success (1984 and 1985 tours), Cirque du Soleil revamped their young show into Le Magie Continue. With a new title and attitude Cirque set off once again on a tour of their native homeland. This seasonal tour visited a handful of Canadian cities – seven in all (Sherbrooke, Montréal, Québec, Saint-Sauveur, Longueil, Ottawa, and Toronto). Cirque also had the distinction of being part of the festivities surrounding Expo’86 in Vancouver, representing their Canadian heritage and homeland. The magic and fantasy continued to follow them wherever they went propelling Cirque du Soleil to new heights in attendance and success. That success also allowed them to take risks – for the first time in Cirque history an invitation was extended to the Chinese government to have a team of its most talented acrobats take part. That invitation grew into the Spinning Meteor performance (seen in Le Magie Continue) and a life-long partnership with the Chinese arts.

Unfortunately that success was short-lived after a trip to Niagara Falls left the Cirque virtually penniless. And in what is now a famous story of luck and survival on their first ever visit to the United States, Cirque du Soleil packed up its trucks and drove to the state of California with barely enough money for gas on the trip over, and absolutely nothing to bring them home again. Gambling everything, Cirque du Soleil presented Le Cirque Réinventé (or We Reinvent the Circus) at the Los Angeles Festival in 1987 and became an instant success. That success followed them to San Diego, Santa Monica and beyond.

Cirque du Soleil would, of course, continue and expand the Le Cirque Réinventé concept in 1987, 1988, 1989, and into European markets beginning with London and Paris in 1990. But while audiences in the United States went head-over-heels for this “sun circus”, the troupe was met with less than enthusiastic response in Europe. Undeterred, Cirque would continue to try and break into the European market, which brings me back to the paragraph above and the topic at hand: the 1992 partnership with Circus Knie, the national circus of Switzerland, which merged Knie’s elephants and horses with Cirque du Soleil’s Technicolor costumes and exciting acrobatics.

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KNIE — four letters in red sprawled across an otherwise all-white big top (with red accoutrements around the sides) announced the coming of Circus Knie this particular year, 1992.

While Cirque du Soleil used a blue and yellow striped big top for its tours (and a white and gold big top for Nouvelle Expérience’s special engagement at the Mirage), Circus Knie used its signature red and white colored big top for its national tour. And much like the setsand stages for the early Le Cirque Réinventé presentations, “KNIE Presents Cirque du Soleil” continued to use the same proscenium setup, through modified to be larger for use by the circus’ traveling animals (horses and elephants).

Most of Cirque du Soleil’s top creative names were at the helm of this new venture, too. Guy Laliberté (Guide), Daniel Gauthier (President), Guy Caron (Artistic Director), Benoît Jutras (Composer and Musical Director), Michele Crête (Costumes), Luc Lafortune (Lighting), André Caron (Set Designer) and Gilles Ste-Croix (Director of Creation). And there were a few new names, too, such as: Pierrette Venne (Assistant Artistic Director), Marcelle Gravel (Costumes) and Allison Brierly (Choregoraphy).

Our Chef de Piste, or Ringmaster, was none other than James Keylon, who fans might recognize as one half of the Alfredo and Adrenaline comedic duo. James took over the role of Chef de Piste from Cirque veteran Michael Barrette in 1989 and continued with the show until its final curtain call.

The dynamic duo of Alfredo and Adrenaline are also no strangers to Cirque du Soleil’s stage. Adrenaline (Francine Côté, Canadian) performed with La Ratatouille in Cirque du Soleil’s 1985 “Le Grand Tour” and in the 1990 European tour of “Le Cirque Réinventé”. Alfredo (James Keylon, USA) performed with Adrenaline at Cirque’s G7 Halifax special performance and in 1995-1996, when they brought their musical talents to Mystère due to Benny LeGrand’s absence.

Musically you’d have found the Cirque du Soleil orchestra seated with Benoît Jutras at the keyboards, turning out the familiar ethereal music from Le Cirque Réinventé. Surrounding him were Germain Borque (on keyboards), Stéphane Gariéty (saxophone and keyboards) Rhèal Jutras (bass) and François Jutras (percussion).

Now that we have the venue and some of its players set up, what’s showing inside?

The theme still centered on a small group of people, called Ordinary People, dressed in everyday clothes, milling about and exchanging looks of amazement with each other at where they had found themselves. Joined by the King of Fools and the Queen of the Night they produced the atmosphere from which the transformed people played out their destiny. And with the help of the ringmaster (transformed into Ti-Claude), the Ordinary People are guided toward their destiny – our destiny – through these amazing performances:

THE PINGUINS (Korean Plank) — This team of dynamics acrobats included: Angelo Ballan (France), François Barré (Canada), Linda Belanger (Canada), Luc Dagenais (Canada), Ghyslain Guay (Canada), Roch Jutras (Canada), Luis Knie Jr. (Swiss), François Lefebvre (Canada), Stéphanie Lemieux (Canada), John Luke Martin (USA), Robert Nesser (Swiss), Gerald Regitschnig (Swiss).

THE EQUESTRIAN TABLEU (Horses), featuring:

o) PAS DE DEUX by Mary-Jose Knie and Robert Neeser.
o) ACROBATIC HORSE RIDING (L’écuyére à panneau) by Geraldine- Katarina Knie
o) LA VOLTIGE (Stunt Flying) by Masha Dimitri and Luc Dagenais

SLACK WIRE — Masha Dimitri. Masha Dimitri was only 6 when she made her first appearance in the ring with the Knie Circus in Switzerland. After studying in Hungary at the Budapest Circus School until 1981, she returned to Switzerland and soon graduated from the Dimitri Theater School, where she studied wire-walking with Szilard Szekely. Masha subsequently worked with the Pickle Family Circus of San Francisco and the Gruss French National Circus in Paris. Perfect balance and balletic grace characterized Masha’s use of her preferred instrument, the slack wire. Masha was featured in the 1987 version of Le Cirque Réinventé.

RHYTHMIQUE GYMNASTICS — Vesta Geshkova and Eli Milcheva. These gymnasts manipulate hoops, ribbons, and balls with elegance. Eli Milanova Milcheva was born in Targoviste, Bulgaria in 1971. By age 18 she gained the World Championship title in the Rhythmic Gymnastics world in Sarajevo, 1989. Her compatriot, Vesta Veselinova Geshkova, born in Sofia in 1971 became the overall European champion in Athens in 1987. The costumes are somewhat reminiscent of the Saltimbanco Rhythmic Gymnastic fabrics used in rotation during Saltimbanco’s European Tour.

THE HORSE TANGO — Ever see a horse tango? Mary José and Fredy Knie, Jr. present just that – le tango â cheval!

HAND TO HAND — Molded in their multicolored costumes, Sophe Ferrero and Virgile Peyramaure deliver a mind-boggling le main a main, the precision of which competes only with the natural forces of the Earth.

TOWER ON WHEELS — Starting with four, then six and up to thirteen, as they circle the ring and climb one after the other onto the bicycle, these performers piece together a moving sculpture that branches upward like a tree. Inspired by the Chinese, the Tower on Wheels was a staple of Le Cirque Réinventé throughout its entire run. The brilliant thing about it is that such an incredibly difficult feat of balance looks so easy, but it’s not! Featuring: Angelo Ballan (France), Francois Barre (Canada), Linda Belanger (Canada), Sophie Ferrero (France), Vesta Geshkova (Bulgarie), Ghyslain Guay (Canada), Roch Jutras (Canada), Geraldine Knie (Swiss), Francois Lefebvre (Canada), Stephanie Lemieux (Canada), John Luke Martin (USA), Eli Milcheva (Bulgaria), Ramon Neeser (Swiss), Virgile Peyramaure (France), Guo Ping (Chinese Swiss), Patricia Reynier (France)

TRICK CYCLING — Angelo Ballan spent seven years with Le Cirque Gruss and three years with Cirque Roncalli before joining the Cirque du Soleil in 1989. He presented his fabulous trick unicycling act in Le Cirque Réinventé in its final two tours and continued here with Cirque Knie. You’ll find him trying to manage balloons and balance cups on his head, which is no small feat.

SOLO TRAPEZE — Hung with ease from her trapeze, Patricia Reynier (from Toulon, France) balances herself high above the stage.

And last, but certainly not least…

DUO TRAPEZE — Adapting their routine to Cirque du Soleil’s quirky style, the Collins Brothers (Collin Eschenburg and Mathias Fischer) present a duo trapeze number that is not only interesting, but highly comical!

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“KNIE Presents Cirque du Soleil” toured in the following 60 cities and towns across Switzerland from March 20th through November 29th:

o) Rapperwil — Mar 20 to 22
o) Uster — Mar 23 to 25
o) Wattwil — Mar 26 & 27
o) Galrus — Mar 28 & 29
o) Frauenfeld — Mar 30 & 31

o) Kreuzlingen — Apr 1 & 2
o) Schaffhausen — Apr 3 to 5
o) Arbon — Apr 6 & 7
o) Altstatten SG — Apr 8 & 9
o) Chur — Apr 10 to 12
o) Buchs SG — Apr 13 & 14
o) Winterthur — Apr 15 to 21
o) Wil SG — Apr 22 & 23
o) St. Gallen — Apr 24 to 29


o) Zurich — Apr 30 to May 28
o) Wettingen — May 29 to 31

o) Buiach — Jun 1 & 2
o) Liestal — Jun 3 & 4
o) Basel — Jun 5 to 18
o) Solothurn – Jun 19 to 21
o) Tavannes — Jun 22 & 23
o) Delemont — Jun 24 & 25
o) La Chaux-de-Fonds — Jun 26 to 28
o) Neuchatel — Jun 29 to Jul 2

o) Langenthal — Jul 3 to 5
o) Grenchen — Jul 6 & 7
o) Willisau — Jul 8 & 9
o) Olten — Jul 10 to 12
o) Zofingen — Jul 13 & 14
o) Windisch-Brugg — Jul 15 & 16
o) Aarau — Jul 17 to 19
o) Lenzburg — Jul 20 & 21
o) Reinach AG — Jul 22 & 23
o) Luzern — Jul 24 – Aug 7

o) Burgdorf — Aug 8 & 9
o) Langnau BE — Aug 10 & 11
o) Bern — Aug 12 to 27
o) Geneve — Aug 28 to Sep 16

o) Nylon — Sep 17 & 18
o) Yverdon-les-Bains — Sep 19 & 20
o) Bulle — Sep 21 & 22
o) Payerne — Sep 23 & 24
o) Biel — Sep 25 to30

o) Moudon — Oct 1
o) Lausanne — Oct 2 to 14
o) Vevey — Oct 15 to 18
o) Aigle — Oct 19 & 20
o) Martigny — Oct 21 & 22
o) Sion — Oct 23 to 25
o) Sierre — Oct 26 & 27
o) Brig — Oct 28 & 29
o) Thun — Oct 30 to Nov 2

o) Interlaken — Nov 3 & 4
o) Fribourg — Nov 5 to 8
o) Zug — Nov 9 to 11
o) Brunnen — Nov 12 & 13
o) Altdorf UR — Nov 14 & 15
o) Locarno — Nov 16 to 19
o) Lugano — Nov 20 to 25
o) Bellinzona — Nov 26 to 29

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“Meanwhile, in Europe, Cirque du Soleil joins forces with Switzerland’s Circus Knie and stages a show in over 60 towns throughout the country.”

It’s amazing that reading a simple sentence buried in a footnote of Cirque’s vast 24-year history set me off on this humble quest. Although, in the end, perhaps it shouldn’t be – it wasn’t the first time I’d dove into a Cirque-based subject based on a mere sentence, and I dare say it won’t be the last. It’s fascinating to learn a little bit more about Cirque du Soleil, and even more rewarding to share it.

While this article covers only a small fraction of what the Knie tour with Cirque was all about, you can get a glimpse of it thanks in part to a Switzerland-based Cirque du Soleil fan site: CircusDream. Using the link below, you can flip through the entire “KNIE / Cirque du Soleil” programme book, scanned by the site’s proprietor. Macromedia FLASH is required. ENJOY!

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