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Set & Stage

When he "crossed the floor" and allows himself the pleasure of being simply an audience member, Michele Crête likes to receive a good jolt of creative energy. He wants Le Cirque's show to exude this kind of energy, which is capable of shaking, the deepest convictions. Michel was the costume designer for Cirque du Soleil in 1987, when he moved from clothing characters to shaping the space in which the show takes place. His future set designs, full of geometrical shapes, have taken over the Big Top, which is larger and more spacious than the previous one.

Michel was trained at the National Theatre School, and designed the sets for many memorable plays produced in Montreal, including "Le Songe d'une nuit d'été" and "La Vie de Galilée", both directed by Robert Lepage, a major figure in Quebec theater. For each of these productions, he created imposing stage environments for the actors to move through, climbing and descending as the plays progressed. His world vision colors all of his designs, for the theater as well as for Le Cirque. "For this show," he recalls, "we had no pre-established script. So we struck a spark from nothing. The creative team made instinctive choices, choices on which all aspects of the production now rest, including the plot, the characters, the costumes, the masks, the sets, and the lighting."

The new set design has completely re-created the space. A circus stage is linked to a theatre stage by a catwalk. In different contexts, the audience may discern in the Big Top a spaceship or a shipwreck, or even a crude shelter huddled up against the tent's inclined wall. All of the Big Top's structures - the wires, the acrobatic equipment - are integrated into the sets. The colors of the earth and fire, along with the warm texture of wood, prevail in this stripped, futuristic environment. Michel Crête has adopted a talisman. The little piece of curved wood, christened the "Gizmo", appeared in the first models of the sets. For the designer, it symbolizes a mischievous spirit that wreaks the disorder conducive to creativity and breathes life into objects.

The various groups of characters have brought the new Big Top to life. Thus, Michel Crête has drawn from the Devils the spirit of disobedience that haunts the Big Top even before the show starts. From the "Flounes", those mocking clowns, he has taken sly winks and crooked grins. These indispensable elements embody Michel Crête's idea of the show's spirit of enthusiasm and excitement.

Luc Lafortune's lighting is an essential component of the ambiance, the atmosphere of the show. It is inextricably linked to how the space is used. "The size of the new set was a great challenge for me," he says. "I had to break through the technical constraints so that they don't dictate how things are lit." Integrated with the lighting design, the sets, the apparatus and even the bare bones of the Big Top became important elements and not obstacles. For example, when the suspended wall, designed by Michel Crête, pivots, the light beams emanating from many sources move. They climb the masts to linger on the swing of the big trapeze, casting bizarre shadows.

After studying at Montreal's Concordia University, Luc signed on with Le Cirque du Soleil in 1984. Since then, his designs have lit the company's way through performances in theatres or under the Big Top, on television shows, and elsewhere. Luc is always looking for new ways to turn the theatrical aspects of his specialty to the needs of artistic expression. The lighting must direct the eyes, influence our perceptions and suggest ideas. Luc even thinks of darkness as a form of lighting, since it creates curiosity, stimulates the imagination, or fools the audience.

The lighting draws its effectiveness from contrast. The wood textures of the set are illuminated by a wide range of colors. The whites are startling, with backlight provided by high-intensity lights. Beams of light, movement, and a fountain of hues, infuse and connect each number.

Cirque Corner