- André Simard
- Acrobatic Research and Development Specialist
A true icon in the world of the circus arts, André Simard hails simultaneously from the world of elite sports (as a former gymnast), art (he was a fine-arts student) and the circus (with years of teaching acrobatics to his credit). In addition to training hundreds of artists and developing or helping to develop scores of aerial acts at Cirque du Soleil and elsewhere, André was able to draw on the skills he acquired in these three worlds to take the swinging trapeze to a whole new level. In 1987, the act he created for Nouvelle Expérience revolutionized aerial high-flying.
In the early 1970s, André was pursuing a career with Canada ’s national gymnastics team while also studying at Montreal ’s Institut des arts graphiques. After taking part in several world championships, he represented his country at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
When he was subsequently named national coach of the men’s gymnastics team, André continued to teach basic acrobatics to clowns and street entertainers at Montreal ’s Centre Immaculée-Conception. Home to Quebec ’s first circus school, the Centre would give rise to the world-renowned National Circus School a few years later.
In 1987, André retired from his elite sports career to devote himself full-time to his new passion: developing spectacular acrobatic and aerial acts for the circus. For nearly a decade, he trained artists at the National Circus School in Montreal. His reputation earned him invitations to teach budding performers outside the country, including at France ’s École nationale du cirque, to supervise internships and to speak at events around the world. It was during this period, nearly 20 years ago, that André began working with Cirque du Soleil, and in 1997 he became a member of the organization’s permanent creation team.
In large part, his success in the circus world can be attributed to his personal and artistic sensitivity along with his exceptional ability to help artists master their discipline. But even more importantly, André is able to show artists how to get their emotions across to spectators.
One of André’s major technical contributions to aerial acrobatics was his invention in the early 1990s of a secure safety line which revolutionized the aerial world by allowing artists to execute difficult acrobatics in optimal safety and comfort. That contribution was key to raising the bar for aerial acrobatics around the world.
The man to whom the new circus arts owe the “aerial silk" discipline developed many of the aerial acts currently featured in Cirque du Soleil shows worldwide. “What fascinates me the most at Cirque is the constant opportunity for innovation and renewal we have here."
What is your role at Cirque du Soleil?
I design human acrobatic performances, mainly aerial, for new shows in creation.
What is Cirque’s approach to athletes?
Athletes who join Cirque du Soleil come to us with a complete spectrum of acrobatic skills. They have trained as athletes for years, and when they come to Cirque they are ready to refocus their careers on the world of entertainment. The training approach we use depends on the show to which each artist is assigned, meaning the ideas the director and other creators have in mind and the set in which they will be performing. But even if the top priority is delivering the show, I nevertheless try to use a personal approach with every artist to bring out his or her own energy.
How would you describe your creative philosophy?
Today, inventing a brand new aerial act is getting harder and harder to do. The art of aerial movement has spread across the planet over the last 15 years, so many avenues have already been explored. New communication platforms like YouTube, for example, have made it easier to share information.
As a result, creating and reinventing focus on combining and interweaving different types of content and playing with the nuances between them. Ideas that are truly one-of-a-kind are more difficult to find … but at Cirque we do have some new approaches that are currently in development and will be unveiled in the future!
As an acrobatic designer, how do you work with the director of a new show in creation?
Every creator, whether acrobatic or artistic, works very closely with the others to meet the director’s requirements. The show creation process always begins with a brainstorming session and at that point, anything and everything is possible. Even ideas that aren’t necessarily feasible are welcome. We go as far as we can and come up with as many ideas as possible. That’s crucial. We can’t close any doors. Instead, we let ourselves go and join in the adventure led by the director and the director of creation.
What advice would you give a candidate who’s thinking about joining the Cirque du Soleil adventure?
Candidates should be completely open-minded. They should show up ready to give their all and to learn. The possibilities at Cirque’s training studio are unlimited, and the conditions are excellent. They just have to take advantage of that!