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Specials: Behind the Curtain

8400 2e - Cirque IHQ

Archives As Cirque du Soleil passed its first decade and found its repertoire growing at an impressive clip, rather than having many of its creative companies spread out amongst various buildings, warehouses and shops across Montréal, Cirque du Soleil decided its artists must have a single home in which to gather, create, rehearse, and dream; therefore, "The Studio", Cirque's new International Headquarters in Montréal, was born.

In keeping with the company's imaginative style and risk-taking ethos, the Cirque crafted a $40-60 Million CDN complex atop one of the biggest landfills in all of North America (the second largest in fact) in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city - the Saint Michel District. Construction began in June 1995 and within a year all of the Cirque's creative employees had moved into the "The Studio".

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The complex was designed by Dan Hanganu and Eric Gauthier, both well-known Canadian architects. They supervised the buildings initial inauguration (on February 20, 1997) as well as its two build outs: one completed in June 1998 and the second in December 2000. Although the entire complex covers approximately 75,000 square meters of land (at a cost of $1.10 CDN per square foot) the "Studio" covers only 32,000 square meters of it.

At first glance the exterior of the IHQ is very industrial looking; aluminum siding, large windows and a sprawling parking lot. However, there are little artistic touches to the exterior that hint at the work of the buildings occupants; walls painted blue and yellow (Cirque's company colours), exquisite landscaping including a large vegetable garden, and artwork such as a large metal sculpture depicting a chair balancing act.

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The interior of the building also has a modern, industrial feel; the buildings support beams and pipes are visible, there are big bay doors that lead into the various studios, and aluminum siding is used inside as well. Though industrial the building isn't cold. It is clean, comfortable and very cool!

Inside the 32,000 square meter studio complex resides...

  • two Training Bays
  • a 361 square meter Dance Studio
  • a 3,761 square meter Costume Shop
  • a 929 square meter Props Workshop
  • a Caffeteria (named "Delirium")
  • Corporate offices, and much, much more!

The Agora:

The Agora is the heart of the Studio. Designed for formal and informal gathering of employees and guests, this meeting place features a staircase reminiscent of the bleachers under the Big Top. Several press conferences have been held here since the Studio opened, as well as a number of concerts. Exhibited in the decor of the Agora are a number of props used for Cirque du Soleil shows, including the studio's infamous clocks.

The Costume Workshop:

All Cirque du Soleil costumes are custom-made and the majority are produced at the Costume workshop at the International Headquarters (IHQ). The workshop, the only one of its kind in North America, employs specialists in fields as varied as shoemaking, textile design, lace-making, wig-making, patternmaking, costumemaking and millinery. In total, the Costume workshop has almost 400 full-time employees. To create its costumes, Cirque du Soleil employs the talents of designers renowned both in Canada and abroad.

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Research and development plays a big role in costume design. Cirque is constantly on the lookout for new materials or products that are likely to stimulate the imagination of the costume designers. Working with the Workshop's teams of specialists (patternmakers, textile designers, dyers, costume makers, etc.), they produce the designs they have imagined for their show. There are many aspects to research and development:

  • The various existing technologies are of interest to the specialists, who study the possibility of applying them to costume designing. Certain materials, called starting materials, are used as is, while others are transformed to give texture to a costume, create a special effect or even an illusion. Materials used for dentistry, plumbing, aviation or even water sports may be found in the components of one costume or another.
  • A technological watch is performed on certain types of products (batteries, adhesives, miniature lights, etc.) in order to see how these various elements can be incorporated into a costume and what effect they would have on the weight or maintenance of the costume, for example.

Within this large fluorescent-lit workshop a variety of costume pieces can be found on display. Some full and ready to wear while others, partially completed, can be seen strewn amongst the fabric proscessing machines, washing machines and sewing machines in the shop. In the shoe station you might see footwear such as the reptilian slippers of the Varekai creatures and the muscle-vein boots of the Bateau acrobats from "O". In textiles, you might see a half-made Varekai Water Metero costume sitting on a bench surrounded by various material samples as the seamstresses craft the costume.

Each year, Costume workshop artisans use a hundred kilometres of fabric from around the world. 80% of all fabrics are treated and dyed in-house by the artisans of the textile design team. To dye fabric, various techniques are used, such as bath-dyeing, silk-screening (a stencil-based printing process done through a silk screen made), and direct application (hand-painted fabric).

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Over in the headwear station where all of the hats, masks and wigs are made, you might see renditions of the African masks worn by the Dralion hoop divers, the Double Face mask and Taiko Tribe headpieces from Mystère, several Old Bird masks from Alegría, the large bird beak worn by a character in "O" and the latex pseudo wigs worn by characters in Zumanity on display for reference. Hats can be seen in every Cirque du Soleil show and are a key part of the costumes. Like the costumes, they are custom-designed and made in the workshop. To do this, the milliners mould and build the hats on plaster models of the artists’ heads. When artists arrive at Cirque du Soleil, they must have a mould made of their head.

A wig-making team is also part of the Costume workshop. These artisans master "ventilation," one of the longest and most arduous wig-making techniques, which involves building the wig one hair at the time onto a base using a hook. In wigs, an intricate hairstyle guide worn by the Washington Trapezist in "O" sits next to the contortionists' wigs from the same show sitting next to the leggins worn by the Satyr character in Zumanity.

Props Workshop:

Downstairs is where all the props used within a Cirque du Soleil show are made. Here you might find latex molds used for making heads of puppets, light- acrylic chairs used in a dance sequence, or other costume prop pieces. The props workshop is also where all Cirque du Soleil artists go to get plaster molds made of their heads for costume purposes. All of the headpieces are tailor-made on a mold of the artist's head to fit each specific performer exactly. You might see a number of plaster molds as there are shelves full here!

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Training Studios:

The Studio in Cirque du Soleil’s International Headquarters is a full-fledged creation, innovation and training laboratory. Since 1997, all Cirque du Soleil shows have been created at the Studio, which provides a great deal of flexibility to the creative teams working on various Cirque projects.

Upon being hired by Cirque du Soleil, performers come to the Studio at the International Headquarters in Montreal for a few weeks or months of preliminary training before joining a show. Physiotherapists and fitness specialists work on site in the Studio to keep performers in good health, help maximize their physical potential, and ensure an optimal environment for their development. all artists undergo artistic and acrobatic training while at the Creation Studio. To supervise performer training programs, the Studio employs close to one hundred trainers from around the world. These trainers specialize in such fields as dance, theatre, singing, and acrobatics.

The Studio houses various acrobatic and artistic training rooms to address the various training needs of the artists.

  • Three acrobatic training studios:
    • Studio A/B: a 1,425 sq-meter acrobatic training studio that is 23 meter high. The room is equipped with a technical “trampoline” 18 m above the ground from which acrobatic and technical equipment can be safely hung. The trampoline is made of 38 km of woven metal cabling;
    • Studio C: a 720 sq-meter acrobatic training studio that’s also 23 m high, adjacent to the first room;
    • Studio E: A 785 sq-meter acrobatic training studio containing a 2.4-metre-deep pit filled with 25,000 Styrofoam cubes (instead of a traditional net), a trampoline and a fast track.

  • Two artistic training studios:
    • Studio D: a 361 sq-meter dance studio divided into four small all-purpose rooms;
    • Studio Theatre: a 315 sq-meter Studio Theatre. In this multi-purpose room, specific atmospheres can be created thanks to a flexible lighting system. Among other things, acting workshops are held there.
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