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Miceli, Sergio
(ed. and transl. by Marco Alunno)

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1.0. "Cirque du Soleil": imagination in power

This is the most recognized and popular circus company in the world (the many video recordings that have been sold first in VHS and then in DVD since 1984, proves it). No other circus activity has ever obtained an even remotely comparable success through live performances and their audiovisual storage on recording devices.

The following quotations I extracted from the Cirque du Soleil’s official website (www.cirquedusoleil.com — last accessed November 2014)19 are a ‘short-cut’ I took to talk about this subject and save space: Let us start with some brief historical data:

19 Each piece of information might be presented in an order and with titles different from the original texts. Moreover, the website does not specify any policy concerning copyright. Therefore, since what I quote is within the limits established by conventions, I call upon the quotation right for didactic reasons. In any case, I thank the site of Le Cirque du Soleil for the material they share online. Consult however: Rodney Gallegos, An Excellent trady: Cirque du Soleil. Reference 222 thinks You Did Not Know, Aspley, Queensland, Australia: Emereo Pub. 2015.

A marvelous idea began to take shape in the early 1980’s in Baie-Saint-Paul, a charming village nestled on the north shore of the St-Lawrence River, east of Quebec City. Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul (‘The Stiltwalkers of Baie-Saint-Paul’), a theatre troupe founded by Gilles Ste-Croix, walked on stilts, juggled, danced, breathed fire and played music. These young entertainers, among whom was Cirque du Soleil-founder Guy Laliberté, constantly impressed and intrigued Baie-Saint-Paul’s residents.

In 1984, during Quebec’s 450th anniversary celebrations of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada, the province sought an event which would bring the festivities to all Quebecers. Guy Laliberté convinced organisers [sic] the answer was a provincial tour of Cirque du Soleil performers and it hasn’t stopped since!

From then on, Cirque du Soleil [sic] tale is that of a remarkable bond between artists and spectators from around the world. And it is the latter who feed the sacred fire of Cirque du Soleil.

Now, some information up to date as at 2014:

Cirque du Soleil is a Quebec based company recognized all over the world for high-quality, artistic entertainment. Since its dawn in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has constantly sought to evoke the imagination, invoke the senses and provoke the emotions of people around the world.

- In 1984, 73 people worked for Cirque du Soleil. Today, the business has 4,000 employees worldwide, including more than 1,300 artists.

- At the Montreal International Headquarters alone, there are close to 1,500 employees.

- More than 100 types of occupations can be found at Cirque.

- The company’s employees and artists represent more than 50 nationalities and speak 25 different languages.

- Close to 150 million spectators have seen a Cirque du Soleil show since 1984.

- Close to 15 million people will see a Cirque du Soleil show in 2014.

[…]

More than office spaces, this wing of the International Headquarters (located in Montreal), includes three acrobatic training rooms, a dance studio, a studio-theater and weight-training facilities. After being recruited by our Casting department, all artists who join Cirque du Soleil for a new creation are required to come here for preparatory training before joining a show’s cast. Training can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

In addition to encompassing our corporate departments, the International Headquarters also houses all core activities of our creative process:

- artists, show creators and producers in the Artist Studios;

- all kind of craftsmanship [sic] specialists, from shoe-makers to carpenters in the workshops.

To support worldwide [sic] activities, a few local offices also provide direct support to our employees on-site.

And, eventually, an aesthetic manifesto:

Cirque du Soleil was built on values and deep convictions which rest on a foundation of audacity, creativity, imagination and our people: the backbone of our success.

Cirque du Soleil places creativity at the core of all its endeavors so as to ensure limitless possibilities. This is why the creative challenge is of the utmost importance with each new business opportunity, whether it is a show or any other creative activity.

Cirque du Soleil dream is also an integral part of its philosophy: To take the adventure further, step beyond its dreams and, above all, believe that our people are the engine of our enterprise. Cirque du Soleil offers its artists and creators the necessary freedom to imagine their most incredible dreams and bring them to life.

The International Head Office, located in Montreal, wishes to be an international laboratory of creativity, where our world’s best creative minds, craftsmen, experts on various domains and performers can collaborate on creative projects. By assuming the roles of catalyst and unifier, Cirque du Soleil is able to reinvent itself with each new chapter of its history.

These words might unpleasantly convey a sense of self-satisfaction. However, one show alone — maybe Alegría, the most enduring, performed since 1994 — is sufficient to make that self-satisfaction more agreeable. Therefore, as an exception to the rule, I decided to let the authors of the official website speak for themselves. In this special case, I cannot deny it, faith in all the creators of the Cirque du Soleil prevailed.

I will confess a couple of things. First confession: I have never liked the circus; I have always found very sad both the show and those ‘good’ animals whose instinct and dignity have been taken away by humans. In the Cirque du Soleil, instead, there are no animals (if anything, the performers are those who ridicule some of their behavior), and the show leaves one breathless. This occurs for at least four reasons: 1) the extraordinary abilities of international mimes, acrobats and jugglers; 2) the authors’ imagination that lets the spectator enter a surreal and phantasmagoric dimension; 3) the very important presence of a leading story, whereas in conventional circus the show is usually constituted of a series of numbers based on a simple outline; 4) a sort of continuity created, in some shows, by means of the insertion of performances drawn from other shows such as Viva Elvis, Mystère, Zumanity, Love, KÀ and many others.

Second confession: I saw the Cirque du Soleil live only once. It happened in the Fall of 2014 at the Teatro Tenda Nelson Mandela in Florence. It was undoubtedly a fascinating experience but, had I watched it on DVD, it would not have been as bad as watching a film on TV instead of in the movie theater.20 Unlike a film, the DVD of a show of the Cirque du Soleil is somehow like a documentary that allows the viewer to focus his/her attention on meaningful details that in the live show could go unnoticed. Unfortunately, while the TV director zooms on some detail, many others and the whole scene are irremediably lost. What one would need is a multi-angle performance. Any DVD may have this elegant function, but the production costs are very high, so much so that even the Cirque du Soleil produced only one DVD with this selectable option.21

20 For a proper domestic audiovisual experience it suffices a relatively expensive home theater system and a 40” TV set. A film, instead, should always be seen — it will never be said strongly enough — in a properly equipped movie theater.

21 It is Alegría. Live recording in Sydney. Reference data are provided further on in the text.

I think there are two jarring ‘notes’ in the Cirque du Soleil: the first, certainly venial, is its name. ‘Cirque’ is, in fact, very reductive, because the show’s aim is to create an expressive totality (recitation, mimics, singing, instrumental music, dancing and acrobatic dancing) assisted by technical and technological means. A fascinating acrobat, who seizes red drapes and fights at several meters from the ground for six and a half minutes or plus, and a music that comments appropriately her inner conflict: this is much more than circus. This is almost cinema (and music is film music), or even more, since the acrobat is filmed during a live performance.

Le Cirque du Soleil. La Nouba, Chapter 8.

Male acrobat with red drapes. Other acrobats — male and female — with other red drapes. Some dancers. A singer.

What is also cinema is a short, exhilarating appearance of what once was called ‘clown’, but who has nothing to do with a traditional clown. Sometimes, an ominous character turns out to be a harmless clown. This might be for a reason. In the Cirque du Soleil, humor is not only used to obtain a grotesque effect; it may be based on an ironic conception of life that, as a consequence, limits the size of its audience and rewards only a minority. Those who belong to this minority will be astounded that such a wit is a feature of a circus show. As an option, one could simply laugh at other people’s misery: unexpected water spurts, tumbles, ordinary objects that manifest a hostile energy, displays of unrequited love, and all that is typical to see in a traditional circus show. I do not think this is coincidental and the ‘philosophy’ behind it is too obvious to require a further explanation.

Lights are not only used to spotlight the artists, but rather they create different atmospheres that, in their wandering, might include part of the audience, also with disco strobes. Moreover, lights are coordinated with a wide range of sounds: bits of gibberish, thunder rumbles, imperious voices descending from above, and several kinds of creaks. Much of this (i.e. lights and smoke) is borrowed from rock performances whose features the Cirque du Soleil has integrated according to its needs. This occurred also through the development of a poly-stylistic musicality that, in a much duller and more predictable way, led also to the so-called symphonic Rock. For this purpose, I recall the LPs Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd and the lesser In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly, both released in the early 1970s. The music used by the Cirque du Soleil is instead more varied: tangos, sambas, Eastern and Arabian music, World Music, New Age music, and some other influences (i.e. some Rota-like chromatisms). The transition from a pseudo-classic to a pop piece is not annoying because every musical comment is always aimed to fulfill or anticipate what happens on the stage (similar to what occurs in some film music).

Let us move now to the second ‘jarring’ note, which is, in my opinion, far worse than the previous one. It concerns the most recent production of the Cirque du Soleil: the DVD Worlds Away. This is not the typical video of a show (as many viewers might think), but rather a true film that just looks like a musical and features the Cirque du Soleil’s artists surrounded by those visual effects that only cinema can offer. The ‘imaginifico22 style of the directors (Adamson from Shrek and Cameron from Avatar) is far too present. To be generous, I would say that the result is redundant, only half-achieved, and above all deceiving. In fact, the writer’s perspective (Adamson himself) is combined with the viewpoint of the other directors and, eventually, of the creator of the circus show. To this, one must add the sense of ‘estrangement’ from the filmed events, since the hic et nunc, which is a basic characteristic of circus and ‘total’ shows, is definitively lost. Surely, what the Cirque du Soleil’s artists do is real but, if one knows a little bit of modern film technique, he/she might naturally think that with cinema and computer graphics everything is possible. In fact, the first overlay on the final credits, when the Beatles’ All you need is love is played, says: “Additional Material Filmed by David Mallet”. This motivates the sense of ‘estrangement’, but does not explain it completely because of a substantial ambiguity the authors could not escape. Being a serious case of incorrect interference, all has been said so far may consistently reshape an overall judgment of the film. In the end, pure fantasy in cinema has already two masters who build everything ex novo: Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, at least.

22 Literally: ‘prolific creator of poetic images,’ but it could be more simply, although less accurately translated with ‘visionary’. The term has a Greek origin and was mainly used, but not coined, by D’Annunzio to qualify the main character (D’Annunzio’s alter ego) of his novel Il fuoco [EN].


Saltimbanco (1994), DVD, from Amazon.it, Italian, Dolby Digital Stereo, French Stereo, dir. Jaques Paynette, music René Dupéré, Italy, Sony Pictures DC 72920 (2007).
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Alegría (1999, 2001, 2003), 2 DVDs, Filmed Live in Sidney. English Dolby Digital 5.1, subtitles: English, dir. Nick Morris, Music composed and conducted by René Dupéré. Columbia Tristar E-35005-UK-5 (2004). From Amazon.it
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Alegría, CD, Cirque du Soleil Musique Inc, 1994. Downloaded from Apple iTunes. No other available data.
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Alegría, CD, Cirque du Soleil Music CDSMC 20007-2 (1994), 12 tracks, Music composed by René Dupéré, Arrangement René Dupéré and Robbi Finkel, Lead Vocals: Francesca Gragnon. With a 2-page libretto. From Amazon USA.
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Franco Dragone, DVD Alegría, un film ispirato al Cirque du Soleil. Music: Benoît Jutras, Rob Hehaney and others; Screenplay: Rudy Barchiello, Prod. Director Aldo Di Clemente for other cinema production companies (including Cirque du Soleil). Extra: backstage etc. Sound: Italian Dolby 5.1. English Dolby 2.0; Format: 16:9; Region: 2, PAL. Mustang Entertainment PSV20973. From Amazon.it
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Alegría, CD, original soundtrack of a film by Franco Dragone. Music by Benoît Jutras, Rob Heaney and others. 15 tracks. RCA BMG 09026-63454-2 (1999).

La Nouba, (2003), 2 DVDs, live filming at the Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1/Stereo, dir. David Mallet, music composed and conducted by Benoît Jutras, Italy, Sony Pictures DV 50420 (2006). From Amazon.it
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Corteo (2005), DVD, from Amazon.it, English Dolby Digital 5.1/Stereo, dir. Jocelyn Barnabé, music composed and conducted by Maria Bonzanigo, Daniele Finzi Pasca, Roger Hewett, Philippe Leduc; Additional Composers Michel Smith, Jean-François Coté, Italy, Sony Pictures DV 97120 (2006).
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Mondi lontani (Worlds Away, 2012), DVD, English Dolby Digital 5.1, written and directed by Andrew Adamson with the contribution of several directors: James Cameron (also producer) et al.; music by Benoît Jutras (theme music), Stephen Barton, Ella Louise Allare, Martin Lord Fergusson (additional music), and other. Downloaded from Apple iTunes, mp4v HD, Italian, Paramount [IT134 176SV] 2012.
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Mondi lontani (Worlds Away, 2012) 2 DVDs BLU-RAY, Litmited 3D Editions, with excerpts from: , O, The Beatles Love, Viva Elvis, and others, Disc 1: Format 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic. Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD. French, Japanese, Deutsch, Dolby 5.1; subtitles: many other languages. Disc 2 (special features): similar. Paramount, 829 402 7 (IT134564BSV). From Amazon.it.
Source: Archive S. M., Florence.

Other sources:
YouTube (accessed in 2013-2015). Cirque du Soleil, live show in Florence, 2014.


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