Cirque du Soleil is known around the world, but few know its history. Can you tell us about it in a few words?
In the beginning, in the 1980s, it was simply a troupe of oddball artists who had taken over a village on the banks of the Saint-Laurent River in Canada. The “Échassiers de la Baie-Saint-Paul”, which was their name at the time, walked on stilts, juggled, danced, breathed fire and played music with the sole aim of delighting the local populations. There was no intent to revolutionise the circus arts by reinventing them. In 1984, inspired by the celebrations around the 450th anniversary of the discovery of Canada by Jacques Cartier and with a desire to promote the newly-formed troupe, Guy Laliberté, one of its members, organised an official tour throughout the province of Quebec. The show consisted of a dazzling combination of circus arts and street performances; a daring mix of extravagant costumes, magical lighting and original music.
He came up with the name Cirque du Soleil, because according to him: “The Sun represents energy and youth”. Things then started moving very fast. The troupe crossed the American border in 1987 to take part in a festival. It began to make a name for itself. In 1993, it took up a residency in Las Vegas. Nowadays, the Cirque du Soleil can be found in many countries around the world.
In terms of set design, your shows are among the most creative around. How do you create your sets and costumes?
There is an immense collaborative effort between the director, the designers and the artisans, all of whom are experts in their fields, who are tasked with manufacturing our sets and costumes. However, although we make every effort not to put any restraints on our creativity, we do have a few constraints. After all, we are a circus troupe and our artists are often acrobats. Therefore, they must be able to have considerable freedom of movement, and the costumes cannot hinder that. We also have to meet regulatory constraints such as those relating to fire safety. As a result, we always keep those rules in mind during our creative process. That being said, we never lose sight of the fact that the main goal of our shows is to create emotions in our audiences. That is our motto and one of our leitmotifs.
All our costumes, accessories and sets are manufactured at our international headquarters in Montreal. Every day, over a hundred artisans work on creating and reproducing the costumes. We can sometimes call on subcontractors for very specific needs.
What are the most frequently used materials?
Many different materials are used quite frequently. In short, I would say that we do not rule out any types of materials provided that they offer a decisive advantage, such as the ability to be easily moulded or sculpted, the possibility of being dyed, etc. We primarily seek out materials that will perfectly meet our needs for a specific act. The requirements for a juggler are not the same as for an acrobat, and this applies to costumes and accessories alike. Overall, we look for materials that will not imperil the artists’ safety and that are solid, lightweight and pleasing to the eye. For all those, reasons, we use foamed plastics in various densities and various chemical compositions. We most often use expanded urethane foams to make the moulds used to make the accessories. EVA foams, for instance, are ideal for thermoforming.
Rigid polyurethane products are used for accessories that need to be very robust. We sometimes use glass and carbon fibres mixed with epoxy resins when we need robust and lightweight objects.
Plastics and polymers are therefore crucial for your creations.
That is true, particularly given that there are several types of plastic, not just one. A wide range of materials is available to us. However, we select materials based on the use we want to make of them. For instance, we use a lot of materials from the shoe industry to make hats and accessories. The materials, and in particular the plastics, used to make soles are lightweight, transparent and flexible. They are perfect for making hats! This is also true for polymers, as well as for all other families of materials that we use. We have already used manual egg beaters as costume decorations. Once coated with paint, they had the appearance sought by the designer.
On the more traditional side of things, the false eyelashes, clown noses, glitter and other things that we buy come from the plastics industry.
Do you use 3D printing?
As we said before, we enjoy using materials or objects to suit our purposes, regardless of their originally intended use. A few years ago, we purchased a 3D printer. It took us a while to find the right technical recipes and the right material. We have now mastered the technology, and it is ideal for making flexible objects. We use different polymers based on our needs. 3D printing technology is very interesting in many regards: we can design our objects and see them on a computer screen, and therefore check them before manufacturing them. This process also helps to reduce waste since the printer only uses what it needs.
Upcoming tours in Europe
TOTEM - 2018
Spain (Malaga and Alicante) - from 1 June to 19 August
Switzerland (Zurich) - from 5 September to 14 October
France (Paris) - from 25 October to 2 December
OVO - 2018
United Kingdom & Ireland (Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Glasgow, Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Dublin, Belfast) - from 16 August to 21 October
France (Lille, Bordeaux Toulouse, Montpellier, Strasbourg, Nantes) - from 8 November to 16 December
Spain (La Coruna) - from 21 to 30 December
Germany (Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin) - From 25 October to 11 November
Italy (Turin and Bologna) - from 15 to 25 November
Germany (Frankfurt) - 30 November
Croatia (Zagreb) - from 7 to 9 December
Spain (Pamplona) - from 6 to 10 February 2019
Germany (Munich) - from 5 to 9 June 2019
More information and tickets at cirquedusoleil.com