From its founding in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has chosen to put creation at the very heart of everything it does and to give it free rein. Cirque du Soleil has never stopped growing, and creation is the key driving force behind this growth. Over the past 25 years, some 200 creators have contributed their talent and vision to imagine the 30 or so shows that Cirque du Soleil has created since its inception.
Invoke, provoke and evoke
The creative mission of Cirque du Soleil is centred on three verbs: invoke, provoke and evoke. The ultimate goal of the creation process is to craft productions that invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke emotions in the audience. At Cirque du Soleil, this process is very organic—that is, while it operates within clear parameters, it is also influenced by the creators on the creation team and their respective experience.
Each new production is first assigned a Director, a Production Manager and a Director of Creation, who is in charge of liaising with freelance creators and the various Cirque du Soleil in-house teams such as Casting, costume workshops and coaches. This trio will develop a preliminary idea based on a guideline formulated by artistic guide, Guy Laliberté. Once the basic concept has been determined, other creators join the creation team. This will usually include a set designer, a costume designer, a composer, a choreographer, a lighting designer, a sound designer, an acrobatic performance designer, a rigging and acrobatic equipment designer, and a few other specialists depending on what is required for the development of the show.
Once the main theme has been defined, an “acrobatic skeleton” (i.e. the acts that will comprise the show) is developed. Floor acts, aerial acts, solos and group acts will make up the show, depending on the production’s primary intent.
Room for discussion
The concept of a show then takes form based on extensive exchange and discussion among members of the creation team. Between each of these sessions, the creators retreat to work individually on developing ideas in greater depth, produce sketches, compose music, and so on, and then come back to the table to combine the fruits of their labour. This leads to new conversations and orientations. The concept of a show is constantly evolving and being fine-tuned as the discussions take place, right up until the premiere and even beyond.
As all these exchanges are taking place and during the development of the set and costume element prototypes, the Casting Department is called on to find the artists who will bring the show’s concept to life. The Casting team, which is involved from the outset of the process, will suggest artists to the Director either based on specific requirements or proactively, i.e. artists with a special profile discovered in auditions with the potential to enhance a show. Sometimes a concept is changed or improved based on the artists proposed by the Casting team.
The creation period may take from one to three years, depending on whether it is a touring or resident show, and according to the very nature of the show to be developed. The technical parameters for touring shows are different than those for resident shows. Touring shows must take into account the set-up and tear-down of infrastructures, for instance. Resident shows, on the other hand, may require a new theatre to be designed and built based on specific artistic parameters. The length of the process varies according to these parameters.
International Headquarters in Montreal – The initial incubator
Cirque du Soleil International Headquarters in Montreal is the starting point for all new creations. Creation meetings, costume and set design, as well as the first rehearsals are held here. Artists from all over the world arrive in the city to begin exploratory workshops and rehearsals eight to nine months before the premiere. The creation team settles down in Montreal for a few months to fine-tune the concept, right up until the transfer to the big top or theatre for the last months of rehearsal and the adaptation of staging elements in the final venue.
Laying the groundwork upstream
As it produces two to three new shows a year, Cirque du Soleil must develop ideas on the periphery of creation, upstream. This brainstorming work—which is done to seek out new talent, develop acts and identify new areas of knowledge and technology—now also calls on external resources. Cirque du Soleil has established strategic alliances with educational institutions, including polytechnics and circus schools, to feed its inspiration and stock its cupboard of ideas. Acts and equipment are now thought out, tested and assessed several months in advance. Based on assessment results, certain ideas will be developed further in order to potentially incorporate them into a show. Some 50 act concepts are now under study, and 15 or so have come to fruition.
Cirque du Soleil is priviledged to be able to attract renowned creators with the desire to collaborate on various projects. The company offers them stimulating creation platforms in which exploration and innovation are the watchwords—and in turn, these creators allow Cirque du Soleil to innovate through their vision and diverse influences.