"Who Has What it Takes?"
Text by: Keith Johnson & LouAnna Valentine | May 2005
Fascination! Newsletter, Issues #41, 42, 43 & 44
The Audition. Job interview of the entertainment arts. Where years
of training, sweating and pain come together in a burst of creative
energy. And all too often for an artist their hopes are dashed
immediately, in front of a large group of people including the
"winners." Yet they subject themselves to the process again and
again, sometimes with success, more often with failure.
But how better to judge an artists' training, capability, stamina, and
creativity in a physical art than to see it, performed in real time,
live in front of you? The audition is a time-honored tradition of the
entertainment industry, and though it has evolved as performance arts
have evolved, the stress on the candidate has stayed largely the same.
It speaks to the courage of artists that they are willing to
repeatedly subject themselves to the likely potential of rejection.
If you're a different kind of organization, with a different ethic and
mindset, must you continue to use the old audition model? If you're
Cirque du Soleil the answer is a resounding no. Taking advantage of
their desirability by artists looking for opportunities to expand
their creativity, Cirque has, as it has with circus arts, reinvented
the audition model. One that combines the search for technical
excellence with an examination of the artist's inner soul.
When Fascination! started and we began tracking the fannish Internet
network, we quickly found there wasn't a week that went by when there
wasn't a post on Cirque Club or somewhere else that took the form of,
"I'm in (gymnastics, dancing, acting, juggling classes - take your
pick) and one day I want to work for Cirque du Soleil." Or "I want
Cirque du Soleil to be my first job." A lofty goal and worthy of
struggle, but often obvious in those messages was that the writer had
little knowledge of the challenge involved in making it onto a Cirque
Being the premiere circus company it is many artists would like to be
employed by Cirque. And the numbers illustrate the challenge they
face. Each year, Cirque receives thousands of demo tapes for its many
disciplines (dancing, acting, singing, musicians, acrobatics and
circus arts). Of that number many will come to one of Cirque's
auditions in the hope of becoming part of the larger Cirque du Soleil
family of about 3000 employees' total; of which 720 are artists and
the rest are office employees, technicians, cooks, coaches, etc.
Their ages range from 13 to 72.
Auditions are held in Montreal as well as in various cities around the
world each year. In 2003 there were about a dozen trips for a total
of about 100 days of general auditions. And there can be even more,
especially for specific disciplines. More specialized auditions are
held regularly for acrobatic and circus disciplines.
Cirque's casting FAQ list (at < http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/
CirqueDuSoleil/en/jobs/onstage/specialities/artisfaq >) describes the
audition process this way: "It is a very exciting time for everyone.
Because no one knows what's going to happen, it's like the suspense
before discovering a new world! It's very important for Casting to
meet the artists in person. At auditions, we assess technical
performance, along with artistic potential. We also pay close
attention to the individual's personality. Open-mindedness and
generosity are the key words, and you should be ready to experiment.
Please note that the audition period includes several elimination
Results of auditions are entered into the expanding Cirque database.
Each artist invited to an audition has a profile with all his or her
personal information in the database. Files are kept on those that
are "chosen" as well as those that are not (you'd need to know why a
person wasn't chosen). There are also QuickTime movies showing the
best parts of their audition. These movies are for casting purposes
only. The entire file can be accessed at any location, so a candidate
from Montreal could be seen by an Artistic Director in Las Vegas.
So what exactly is this unique Cirque du Soleil audition like? What
makes it so different from others? It was this question that we as
Fascination! wanted to explore more deeply. And when it was announced
that Cirque would be holding auditions in Seattle, Washington, we were
quick to ask Corporate Headquarters if we could cover the auditions
for our readers, to give them a better idea of just what it takes to
be a Cirque audition candidate. And we were delighted, and a little
surprised, when they said yes.
But, they advised us, there were some rules for allowing the media to
view auditions. (How exciting for us to finally be considered
"media"!) These had to do with making sure the audition process was
not disturbed by media presence. And no flash photography. No
problem for us!
Friday, April 23rd, 2004
8:40am - A cool dry spring morning in the Emerald City. My wife,
photographer LouAnna Valentine, and I arrive at the football stadium
parking lot at Seattle Center, where remnants of the 1962 Seattle
Worlds Fair have been converted into museums, performance halls, and
open space. Wearing our blue denim Cirque jackets we proceed to the
north side of Center House to find the doors - locked! We knock
loudly and a security guard lets us in, informing us we should have
come to the south side of the building this early in the morning.
Zipping in as the door closes is a young lady in her early 20's with
blond frizzy hair, black exercise shorts and a powder blue top.
Between LouAnna and I we refer to her throughout the day by the city
from which she hails, "Toronto." She had sent her audition tape to
Cirque a year and a half ago when she lived in Alberta, Canada. But
by the time she got her audition callback she had moved to Toronto.
For her it was quite a long and expensive flight. Her sweet
personality and excitement make us root for her throughout the day.
The 4th Floor of Center House is dedicated to offices and low-cost
rehearsal spaces. Theatre 4, where the auditions are to be held, is
hidden behind a thick white fire door, and down a long narrow hallway
with brickwork on one side and pipes overhead. To us it looks so
stark that we don't think anyone would ever come here to see a
performance, though it is touted as a performance space. But it looks
like a place for work, not for show.
Others arrive slowly. Soon after we arrive an Asian lady from LA
appears, as well as a lady from Phoenix (whose feet, with calluses and
a sore, bear the marks of a dancer). Conversation is more camaraderie
than competition or psyching out. They all stretch, contorting their
legs and bodies into incredible pretzel shapes; impossible positions
most people could never achieve but which they do as a simple part of
9:20am - People keep arriving. Yet nobody from Cirque, they are now
20 minutes late. The chatter level rises; the natives are getting
restless. There are 13 people now - 5 men, 8 women. They have
survived the first day of auditions, which started with 27 people -
more than half of whom were cut.
9:31am - A man in his early 20's, wearing jeans and a polo shirt with
a lanyard hanging from his neck comes down the hallway from one of the
business offices to use the restroom. He looks at the group with a
bemused expression; he's seen this many times before.
9:35am - The Cirque audition team finally arrives. A tall man in his
late 30's instantly spots us as the reporting team from Fascination! -
we are the only ones not wearing tight fabrics and stretching. This
is Richard Dagenais, who welcomes us into the audition room and helps
us set up.
Theatre 4 is a sparse room about 60 feet deep and 30 feet wide with
windows high along the wall to our right and full-length mirrors on
the wall to our left. Curtains that allow the room to become totally
dark hang on both walls. The floor is littered with strips of gaffers
tape. Stage lights and speakers dot the ceiling. This room has been
A small room behind the near wall has an elevated platform where the
tech crew sits. The lighting console and sound equipment are here as
well as a long plywood table and some stools. A window of glass
separates the platform from the rehearsal space. It is from here we
will watch the day unfold. LouAnna sets herself on a box with her
camera; she will use this vantage point to take pictures. I set up my
note-taking equipment to her left. Richard, to my left, operates the
sound and light equipment and helpfully answers our many questions.
We are introduced to the members of the Cirque audition team:
- Richard Dagenais - Head of Auditions and Logistics, Casting
- Charles St-Onge - Audition Coordinator
- Anne-Marie Duchène - Artistic Scout
- Charmaine Hunter - Dance Evaluator
Charmaine is a free-lance external evaluator based in Las Vegas. Her
role is to run the dance part of the audition, show choreography and
judge the candidates' technical ability. She can tell Anne-Marie if a
candidate has good technique or weaknesses. "She's wonderful and
great for the artists," says Richard, "It's very easy to work with
Charmaine with her openness and expertise."
Anne-Marie is also a dancer, in her role as Artistic Scout she knows
the profiles of all the shows and what Cirque is looking for. She
will be running the afternoon session.
As Audition Coordinator, Charles deals with the logistics of the
auditions, from welcoming the candidates to renting the hall to
booking hotel rooms, as well as running the camera and sound/light
systems. He's been with Cirque for four years and comes from a ballet
jazz dance background.
And Richard? "I supervise the auditions and all the logistics for
casting in all its various aspects. I need to look at the audition
process every once in a while, analyze how we do it as a whole. See
if it's still valid, if it still works, see if there are things we can
improve or add. I attend the auditions in Montreal and at least once
a year I try to go on a trip with an audition team. This year
Seattle, last year I was in Berlin and New York." In Montreal,
Richard supervises nine people. Casting has grown a lot. When he
first joined Cirque there were about 18 in the department, there are
Richard started his career as a dancer for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet,
and was there for 10 years. Upon finishing his dance career he went
to work for Canadian Actors Equity in contract negotiation and as a
union rep. After being away from his hometown of Montreal for 18
years he was looking for an opportunity to be back with his family
when a contract negotiator position opened in Cirque casting. In the
department he was involved in contracts for the artists on several
productions. Now 40 and married, he lives in a Montreal condo with
his wife, a popular yoga/Pilates teacher, and counts photography and
being a Big Brother as among his interests.
The candidates pin numbers to their outfits. The numbers don't have
any sort of order to them, just three digits with "Cirque du Soleil"
across the top. The audition team sets up on the far side of the
room, facing us. Anne-Marie opens a laptop and begins to tap away.
Charles sets up a video camera on a tripod; most everything this day
will be recorded. Charmaine waits and watches. Richard hops onto the
technical platform and prepares the sound/light equipment, which he
will control for Charles all day. He will lead us step-by-step
through this second day of the dance audition process. Having arrived
three days ago, they will be auditioning dancers, actors, singers and
musicians during their two-week stay in Seattle.
"Auditions are one of the first ambassadors of Cirque du Soleil,"
explains Richard. "We (auditions) are the first contact artists have
with Cirque. Even [though there are] scouts that go to festivals and
shake their hand and make contact with a lot of them, this is really
the first Cirque du Soleil experience they have. So it's important
that the process be an interesting and positive one for them, because
they will leave with that impression."
"[Artists] discover a lot during our auditions. They have probably
never been asked to do these kinds of things. So they learn and a lot
of times surpass themselves, they will go beyond their limit and
discover new aspects of their talents. So far we've had very good
feedback and they love our auditions. Sometimes they want to come
back just because they love the process."
But wouldn't a more traditional "cattle call" casting process bring a
wider variety of talent? "We don't want hundreds and hundreds of
people to come in. We'd rather work with a smaller group of people
and go into very specific things. Our auditions are different from
any other audition. We want to go further with them, to see how far
they can go. Because all of them have something. They've come a long
way just by getting to this point. We like to treat everyone with
respect. And we want them to have fun and learn something, because
the artists that we do not select could potentially be selected during
the next audition they attend."
"It's not like a Broadway audition where they show choreography, the
director is there, and people are chosen on the spot. We try to make
[the selection process] as simple as possible, considering that we
don't have the artistic director with us. If you look at a ballet
company or Broadway show the artistic director of the show is at the
audition table. He makes the cuts, he makes the decisions. So people
that are picked at the end of the audition are the artistic directors'
choice. With us, we have to be [the artistic director's] eyes and
ears. The reason we videotape everything is to be able to show these
images to the Artistic Directors or the Creators in order for them to
decide who they want in their show."
Of course, along with the joy of telling a candidate they have been
chosen to be part of the database, there is the sad job of
disappointing those who aren't chosen? "It's part of the process. We
try and do it as respectfully as possible and give them a little bit
of feedback. We try to open the door for them to write us if they
want more feedback about the audition and why they weren't picked. If
we give someone specific corrections, in two years they may come back
and impress us. And eventually they might end up on our stage. It
makes good business sense for us, and they leave with a good feeling.
They leave the audition and they have a smile on their face even
though they may not have been selected. And they've learned
Anne-Marie agrees. "Very quickly, especially in the audition process,
if people aren't prepared, we know right away. If they choose to
accept [our feedback] and accept that they didn't prepare, it's all
good. It's a learning experience, they're going to go back and get
all their tools and create a really solid foundation, a great toolbox,
and in another year they're going to re-apply. And they're going to
remember that scouts name because they're going to call him/her. We
scout for new artists but at the same time we have a precious database
of artists that we go back and review. We know that if they've
already auditioned for us there's a maturity, knowledge, an acceptance
that they know, "I'm going to get my booty kicked, but it's worth it."
Can the pressure of an audition really show a scout an artist's true
personality? "Auditions are nerve racking," Richard admits. "And
sometimes an artist isn't at his best because of his nerves. We try
to get them to forget they're in an audition and feel relaxed. The
more comfortable they are the more they'll let go and the more we'll
see who they really are, what they can do, what they have to offer.
So the more comfortable we make them, the better it is and the better
results we get."
"We don't look for "cookie cutter" type of artists. We like the fact
that they're different, that they have personality and quirkiness,
little "weird" things that they do. We ask them, "Is there anything
you do that is different?"
What's the most fun about going to an audition? "Contact with the
artists. There is openness when they come to our audition that is fun
to see. Singers for example: sometimes somebody comes to the studio
and touches you with their voice and their choice of songs and you're
almost in tears; it's wonderful."
So what exactly is Cirque du Soleil looking for in an artist? "We're
looking for talent, of course. And we have specific things because we
have specific profiles for each of our characters, so sometimes there
are height and look requirements. There's a fullness to an artist
that we're looking for which includes talent, maturity, openness, and
experience. Sometimes, especially with acrobats, we get lots of
competitive experience but they've never stepped on stage before. But
they're incredibly talented as gymnasts. That's why we have general
training for acrobats every year so we can teach them a little bit of
how to be an artist Cirque du Soleil style and what it's like to be in
front of an audience. We try, in the short amount of time we have to
work with them, to make them a more complete performer."
The Cirque casting website is also to-the-point: "We want to get to
know dancers of every background and origin. Avant-garde, new dance,
solo creators, performers... the basic requirement is technical
mastery. The pace of 8 to 10 shows a week requires sustained
commitment and self-discipline."
While positions for circus acts and acrobats might be obvious in their
needs, dancers and actors are less so. Where does Cirque utilize
dancers, we asked Richard. "The dancers in our shows are characters.
In Mystère for example, we have Green Lizards, the Black Widow, the
Bird of Prey, and the Beauty Queen. They are all dancers, but they
all have their own character to play in the story. We also have some
pure characters that could be played by a dancer. Eugen in "O", is
played by an actor, but could potentially be done by a dancer. Target
in Quidam is presently played by a dancer."
END OF PART ONE
# # #
In Part 1 of our series we discussed the background of
the audition process, talking with Richard Dagenais - Head of
Auditions and Logistics, Casting (our host), and Anne-Marie Duchène -
Artistic Scout. Here we resume our exclusive look at a Cirque du
Soleil audition as the second, crucial day for the dancer candidates
9:47am - "Kumbalawe" from Saltimbanco plays on the sound system as
people continue to warm up.
The kinds of artists Cirque is looking for is heavily influenced by
what the creative teams and artistic directors of a show are looking
for. For example, Richard explains, Dominic Champagne is one of the
creators of Varekai, along with the rest of the creative team (Andrew
Watson, choreographer Michael Montanaro, composer Violaine Corradi,
and so forth). "Once the show is up and running there's an Artistic
Director that will keep the artistic integrity of the show alive.
Dominic is not going to go on tour with the show, although he might
visit once in a while and give his comments."
"Our scouts meet with the artistic directors and get to know them,
their tastes, what they're looking for. So when they are in an
audition they're not seeing artists through their own eyes but through
the artistic directors' eyes. It's difficult but that's what they
have to do, to see whether these people are going to be able to
satisfy what the artistic director is looking for. You have to strike
a balance between your own opinion, your taste, and putting yourself
in a room with somebody watching a movie that has never met those
"When you're touring with Cirque, and you're going all over the world,
your endurance, personality, focus, availability, generosity -
everything counts," notes Anne-Marie. "When you see that [in a
candidate] from the get-go you say, "OK, this is the one." You have
to keep a global picture of everything that's going on with each
artist, so you maintain an open mind knowing there are all these
categories. My job is to present artists to creative directors, so
I'm the link between the artists and the creators. I say, "We don't
have a profile that [this person] fits, I just want you to look at
her." Then, if an artist gets signed the scout is so happy. "Oh did
you see? That's my artist! My audition!" (Laughs)
"There are certain profiles we need that are challenging to find,"
Richard continues. "We have about 20% turnover in artists every
year." Is 20% annual turnover of 720+ artists high? "For a dance
company it's not uncommon. It's also normal for us. Some people want
to retire, others get injured, some we don't renew their contracts.
Some people switch shows; that's how we can keep some of them for 10-
15 years. So all of that put together counts for 20%. When you have
120 artists in a [ballet or theater] company and only two shows it's
different than when you have 720 artists, 10 shows and new creations
[as Cirque does]. We scout the whole world for acrobats and artists
and sometimes it gets a little bit difficult, you wonder where you're
going to find people. And you don't have to find just two, you have
to find 20 or 40 or 100. It grows and grows and it makes it very
challenging for us. That's what makes it exciting, that challenge."
Cirque fans are familiar with high-profile artists switching shows,
such as Olga Pikhienko going from Quidam to Varekai. Does it happen
often? "A little bit, not a lot. There comes a point where an
artist, for one reason or another, wants to do something different.
It's something we encourage because we can keep our artists longer,
which is a good thing for us."
The constant need for artists keeps Richard and his group busy. "A
year ahead we do an audition calendar with the scouts, decide where to
go during the year. Four to five months ahead of time we look at the
number of candidates we have to evaluate in a territory. Do we need
to do marketing, such as in the paper, to attract more? We book
studios and hotels about 2 months out. We then look at all the demos;
do we have the possibility of a good evaluation? If they're complete
they're put in the database and about 1 month out we invite them to
audition. We also look through the profiles of the candidates, to see
if we have a lot of specialty dancers or just general dancers."
How many people might view an audition tape or demo during the
process? "We have scouts who will evaluate demo tapes. For musicians
and singers it can be an outside evaluator, somebody who's not
necessarily with the casting team. They will work with the scout to
help choose the people that we will invite to the auditions. If
there's an opening the tape will be presented to different artistic
directors and the director of the show. We might also show it to the
choreographer. So that's about five. And the Artistic Director of
the show makes the final choice."
We asked Richard how auditions are handled for the various disciplines
Cirque is looking for. "[For dancers,] the first day is basic dance;
movements, vocabulary. The second day [which we're witnessing] is
more specific movement, and we also do acting exercises with them.
It's a lot of fun with dancers because it's all physical." And the
search for dancers takes Cirque around the world. "The thing with
dancers is that they travel. We're in Seattle and we have Brazilian
dancers (as well as a person from Toronto). We go to Berlin and we
see Canadian dancers. So we go where they are but they also come
where we go."
What about actors? "For actors the process is similar. The first
day, they present us a 3 minute act which will show us who they are
and what they do. The second day we do more elaborate acting
"Singers and musicians are done in a sound studio because we need good
quality recordings. With singers we bring them all in the first day;
we can see 20-30 per day. We give them 10 minutes to do 2 or 3 songs.
We have an expert singer evaluator who evaluates technique. If they
get called back we'll give them specific things to work on. Either
specific things from our shows or other styles of music we want to
hear from them so they choose their own songs. For that we use a
pianist." But there aren't many positions for singers, are there?
"There aren't that many slots for singers, but the database needs
people for emergencies and other situations. We always tell them they
might be called next week or maybe in the next year or two. And we
keep following up with them so we know where they are and their
availability. But we'll know that they fit what we're looking for."
"Musicians are different in that there's no callback. We book
individual appointments and can see about 8 a day. It takes 45
minutes to 1 hour to evaluate musicians. We need to know if they can
play well and play in the style we're looking for. A lot of them play
at least two instruments and have solid technical training; it's not
only what we're looking for, it tends to be what we get.
"Musicians are a treat to audition. To see them dance, or hear them
sing or play. That makes it difficult if we have to tell them we're
not going to keep them in our database. We know they're talented but
they just don't fit." I noted that many of the musicians in Cirque
shows are from Canada. "We have a lot of Canadian musicians because
there are a lot of great musicians [in Canada]. We have a lot of good
ones in our own back yard, why not take them?"
What about the circus arts disciplines? Is there one area of the
world that excels? "For circus arts, Eastern Europe has a big circus
history. It's a question of cultural and social tradition. In some
of the gymnastic disciplines Eastern European countries have a bigger
pool. Europe has a big circus culture; for example there are hundreds
of circuses in France."
9:53am - Anne-Marie kneels on the floor as the candidates gather in a
semi-circle. She talks about what will happen during the day, going
one step at a time. "It's up to all of you," she tells them, "to show
the audition team who you are. To take risks. Allow yourselves to
enter the unknown. And, most importantly, have fun."
9:58am - Charmaine conducts warm-up exercises, helping stretch muscles
so they won't get injured. Following her lead, the group kicks legs
high in the air, effortlessly achieving what my wife LouAnna and I
have difficulty with in aerobics class. Their amazing strength and
flexibility is evident as they move. But they have been doing this as
their lives' passion for years, even decades.
10:16am - Charmaine leads them in another dance exercise to music from
a dance class CD. Several tracks from the CD are used during the
morning for various exercises. LouAnna snaps several pictures under
less than ideal circumstances; perched on a chair on top of a large
box, she has to crane her neck close to the glass separating us from
the audition room.
What kind of career can a dancer have in the high-pressure world of a
Cirque du Soleil show? "Acrobats and dancers have short careers,"
Richard explains. You age out of the discipline, but not necessarily
out of Cirque. Because we have ex-dancers or acrobats that have
progressed into character roles. When you're a dancer or acrobat you
learn all these acting skills and you're able to transpose that into
The challenge lies not so much physically as mentally. "For a dancer
from a ballet company that is used to doing 100 shows a year, that has
to learn a dozen ballets a year, it's very challenging and it's always
different. When they come to Cirque it's the same show 374 shows a
year, 10 shows a week - it's tough. Dancers have to really think if
that's what they want."
"It's kind of like doing a Broadway show. Some dancers find it too
repetitive, some love it. You have to find the right person and they
have to keep themselves motivated. It's a different approach because
you don't get challenged and motivated because you're doing something
new, you have to find it somewhere deep in your role. Once they
understand and grab that it becomes challenging and motivating for
them. But it's a new mindset."
What kind of experience is Cirque looking for in dancers? "The most
useful kind of experience with regards to dancers is stage experience
in front of an audience. You learn a lot in front of an audience; you
have one shot to give them the experience you're supposed to give
them, to leave an impression. It's different than being in a studio;
the studio is your kitchen, you can make a mess there. But in the
hall it's different."
"There's not one kind of specific experience we need. We need
classical dancers for La Nouba and Mystere. We need African dancers
for Dralion and Zumanity. We have a lot of modern dancers - such as
the Green Lizards in Mystere. We have Indian dancers in Dralion, an
exotic dancer in Zumanity. We don't close our doors to anything."
The Cirque casting website makes mention of this as well. "Your
background may be in one of the great traditions or in one of the new
dance forms; you may be unconventional, on the fringe, or totally
outrageous; your dance may come from near or far; whatever the case,
put your best foot forward!"
Richard describes a case in point: "Zumanity goes to show that you
never know what will be needed. A couple of years ago we got a demo
tape of a pole dancer - "Oh my God, look at this!" - Back then, we
couldn't use it. Then a few years later they came to us and said, "Do
you have any pole dancers?" "Oh, we had a great one!" And we had to
scramble to find that videotape and contact information."
10:25am - Charmaine stops and discusses another music selection with
Richard, selecting a solo bongo track. The candidates, having warmed
up, start removing jackets and overshirts, bearing muscular arms and
taut stomachs. As we continue talking, Charmaine is teaching moves,
counting out time and beating out the count with claps of her hands.
The most important key to unlocking the door to an audition with
Cirque du Soleil is The Demo Tape. "A lot of artists don't know how
to put a demo together. They'll send a demo with a piece of paper
saying, "I'm the fourth one from the left," and there are 60 dancers
on stage. So we tell them to go to the website and see what we're
looking for. If you give us a good demo it gives us a chance to see
who you are. But if you're in a group of people on your tape we don't
know. In that case we usually ask for another demo."
Cirque has spent a considerable amount of time analyzing and refining
their demo/audition approach. For Richard this meant placing a
priority on refining the pre-selection process. Instead of having
general auditions that involved a whole bunch of people Cirque knew
nothing about, they went to invitation-only auditions. Now, "We don't
see as many people as we did before, but the number we keep has stayed
about the same. So the percentage of people that we keep has
increased quite a bit. In New York, we had 65 dancers audition and we
kept 6." Here they have 27 and will probably keep around the same
He also knew that Cirque needed to better the communication with the
candidates about what was needed on their demos. "[We needed to] ask
for more precise things on the demos to have a better evaluation and a
better idea of their technical level and their artistry. Because our
needs are so specific, we don't want to waste the time of the people
who do come in, spending money flying and so forth that might not
correspond to what we are looking for. So it was important to look at
ways to improve that pre-selection. Now instead of dealing with 65
people we deal with 27, it's much easier, less stressful."
One of the things they stopped doing was making general requests for
demos in their audition publicity materials. "We realized that people
stopped reading after, "Send us a resume and demo," and didn't go any
further. So they would never go to the website
(www.casting.cirquedusoleil.com) and find out what we really needed,
they would just send us incomplete material. So now we say, "Our
auditions are by invitation only. For more details, go see the
website." So they go and see exactly what they need to send. And
it's starting to work because the number of complete files that come
in has greatly increased compared to what we'd gotten before. We
don't get so many of the "I'm the third one from the left" demos
anymore. We're starting to see results, and it's encouraging."
Indeed the Cirque casting website, under "How to Apply," has very
explicit instructions on what is to appear in demos for all of their
disciplines. Take the requirements for a demo from a classically-
trained dancer, for example: Two-minute presentation to the camera;
Pirouettes - basic, attitude, arabesque, à la seconde; Fouettés;
Jumps: tours en l'air, jetés, petit and grand Allegro; Pointes; Adagio
showing flexibility, strength and extension; Flexibility: split (side
and front), back bend; Three-minute solo choreography in studio; a
solo segment in performance. Or, this one for actors: Presentation to
the camera: (2 minutes); Excerpts from a performance or rehearsal (10
minutes) or an original scene (3 minutes); Characters. Show us 4 to
12 characters in short interludes (15 seconds to 1 minute) on stage (8
Anne-Marie agrees that being more specific has helped, adding, "We're
honing down on people's skills. Hopefully the word will get around
that the auditions are tight, we're serious, we're gonna push you, you
gotta give it up, and really get artists that are exquisite or have
really special skills and are generous."
10:35am - The team divides the candidates into groups of three and has
them perform the dance they were learning, but facing the ever-present
video camera. In direct comparison to each other, candidate's
strengths and weaknesses become evident. The woman of an Argentinean
dancing couple, while doing a stretch on one leg, bobbles the move;
her balance isn't very strong. In our first prediction of the
morning, LouAnna suggests she will soon be cut. But there are more
factors than technical talent the Cirque team is looking for. She has
something else to offer, as we will soon find out. Besides, she
survived the first grueling day.
We ask Richard if the people we're seeing will all make the final cut,
after the culling of half the troupe yesterday. "There are some
people [here today] that are in a gray area, a few question marks. At
the end of the day we have to ask; if we presented these people to an
artistic director, do we think that this person would corresponds to
what the AD is looking for? If we think they do, then we're sure."
"We try not to make an opinion too quickly. Yet there are some
[people] that are obvious. Our process is very subjective. Because
our taste is our taste, we are influenced in certain ways that the
artistic director will never be influenced until they actually meet
the artist, if they ever do. They have to see it through a camera
lens, while we have a personal interaction with them. Sometimes it's
funny because you go back home and you look at the tapes and you start
to doubt. "How come that's not the person I saw?" That's why we have
our technique and why it takes two days. We need a lot of material,
we need to give them a chance to really shine and be able to put on
camera the talent that we see. The camera needs to be able to capture
it, and it's not always easy. It's like when you see a live show on
TV, it's not the same feeling. And that's one of the difficulties
that we deal with."
10:45am - Richard and Charles look for another song for Charmaine to
use. They search through the CD collection, finally settling on a
track. Charmaine teaches them a piece of choreography from one of
Cirque's shows. LouAnna shoots more pictures and is already through
here first roll. But the "No Flash" rule means she has to increase
her exposure time, and attempt to capture the candidates in a rare
moment of relative stillness.
The selection process, Richard comments, is like carving a statue.
The Audition Team are the miners of the rock, while the Director of
Creation and Artistic Directors are the carvers, taking the raw stone
and creating a thing of beauty.
Cirque du Soleil is always in the process of creating, from KÀ to
Cirque 2005 to the Celebrity Cruise Lines shows to the Beatles/Mirage
show. The Montreal headquarters is now constantly buzzing with
creative activity. "Cirque du Soleil: Fire Within" gave us a peek
into that process for Varekai. How true-to-life is it?, we ask
"What I liked about Fire Within was how well it documented what the
artists went through. It showed the reactions to the different
environment that's been created in Montreal. The creation process is
one of the most wonderful things an artist can go through because
something is created on them based on what they do and who they are,
as opposed to something that's been done before by somebody else. But
it's also incredibly demanding, physically, emotionally. That's what
makes it wonderful, that intensity that you live with. But it's not
for everyone, not everybody likes it, but some people thrive on it."
"For some people, creation is all they'd like to do; go from one
creation to another. Because artists are extreme, they love the
intensity of emotions of the creation process. It starts out like a
honeymoon and gets intense until the completion is in sight. When
they look back on the creation they feel it was all worth it."
Outside of roles in existing shows, the audition team is also on the
lookout for artists that can be used in new shows and creation
processes. "What's coming is a lot of fun too, because we don't know
what they're going to ask for, so we just look for something special.
People that are different, an open personality. For example, for a
touring show you look for someone that likes to tour. So we look to
what's already there and what might be coming later."
"Anyone that can impress us in any kind of way - to show us their
individuality - even if we can't see it in our shows right now, it's
important for us to keep and document. Because what we in casting and
the scouts present to the creators and artistic directors of our new
shows can influence which direction they're going to go. Because if
there's a "weird" talent or something they've never seen before they
might say, "Oh yes, I want that person, I want that image." We feed
them. And it's important to find these people so that we don't miss
anything and we can present these things. It's all about getting new
"Sometimes an artist creates a character that resembles themselves.
It's what they do, they do one thing great and that's what we want.
So they could perhaps have a career out of that [one thing]. One of
the synchro swimmers in O, he had his arm behind his head in an
unconventional way. One moment he was part of a group and the next he
has a solo. Why? Because of one thing he does well. And it was a
powerful dramatic image."
How does the creation process work? "There's no formula. Each
creator has a storyboard, and as the creation process develops things
change. Artists might suggest certain things. A lot of times they'll
start with too much. Zumanity was once a three-hour show and had to
be cut. It's always better to have too much than not enough."
"Sometime some elements get eliminated in the process. But eventually
[the artists] understand why. Especially if it's the first time they
go through the creation process, at the end they "get it." They
understand why it happens [like it does]. It's usually because of the
product that ends up on stage. Because it's trial and error. Some
things will work, some things will change, and that's the creation
"That's why Guy Laliberté, in his role as Guide, is wonderful. His
strength is his eyes, his vision. The ability to look at what is on
stage and simply see what works and what doesn't. With his experience
and what he's done he's able to pinpoint - "This is what will work, I
need more of this" - and that's one of his main roles now. That's
probably why this company is doing so well artistically."
11:30am - A break is called. Several of the candidates hang out in
the back room, chatting amiably with each other. This doesn't seem to
be a high-pressure situation for them; this isn't a winner-take-all
reality show. They come from such diverse places as Seattle,
Portland, Vancouver, Phoenix, LA and Toronto. They sent in their demo
tapes from 2 months to 1.5 years ago. I mention to one how much
people are sweating. His answer, "Yeah, but we love to sweat."
We ask Richard what kind of atmosphere they try to maintain during an
audition. "It's tricky because some people are incredibly good at
auditions but when they're in front of an audience it's a different
story. And some people are not as strong in auditions but you put
them on stage and they shine. So you have to try to see it. That's
why we try to help them relax and create an atmosphere almost like a
game. And you can see on the second day there's already a connection
between the artists. All the auditions I've seen for dancers and
actors it happens this way. They might never see each other the rest
of their lives but during that moment they are sharing the same
experience and emotions. So there's a very strong bond. And because
of the nature of the roles we have, and how different we are, they
understand very quickly that there's a place for each one of them so
they're not in competition with each other."
11:45am - The improv section of the audition starts. The candidates
watch from the far end of the room as each takes their turn in front
of the team (and the camera). As we watch the Argentinean woman do
her improv, Richard suggests, "It must be fun for them to watch the
other do something independently."
Would those who go later and can consider their reactions, we wonder,
have an advantage over those who go early? "Sometimes the people at
the beginning have more spontaneity," Richard responds. "Sometimes
when you think too much about something it doesn't work because it's
It is here we begin to see the difference between other auditions and
Cirque du Soleil auditions. These artists are being asked to show
their minds, their personality, their very essence to the audition
team. It's obvious that just having the dancing chops won't be
enough; candidates should be well versed in acting skills as well.
"Some of the exercises we do are tools for evaluation to get to know
the candidates," says Richard. "But acting and emoting skills are
important. You have to be as complete as possible. It's important
because of what we require from the artist, because of what they have
to do on stage."
12:38pm - As we break for lunch, cuts are made. A tall lanky young
man, a girl with cornrow hair, and one other girl. They will not be
back this afternoon and pack their things, faces grim. Ten of the
original 27 artist candidates remain. Before heading off to lunch I
comment to Richard how, with his help, we can see how people we
thought would be cut in the morning are still here. "It's nice to
know our process makes sense to other people" he smiles. "There's a
purpose behind our madness."
1:40pm - After lunch, the group re-convenes. Anne-Marie gathers them
again in a semi-circle to give instructions about the rest of the
afternoon. Charles manipulates lights in the ceiling to better aid
the videotaping; Richard helps by controlling the light board. An
older woman with white hair has joined the troupe (we later find out
she is 78 years old). She is a tap dancer who was here yesterday and
has been asked to attend the last half of today as the morning session
wasn't geared toward her skills. She's very open, we're told, and
they want to test other aspect of her talent. LouAnna and I refer to
her as "Taps."
1:55pm - The audition continues. The artists line up against the near
wall, Anne-Marie sits on the floor near the audition table. The music
is a lilting repeating melody from a French film soundtrack. One by
one each is called forward for a solo improv exercise.
Why do some of the exercises you do, we wonder. "The people on our
stage are not just dancers, they're not just musicians or singers,
they're characters," Richard says. "So we need to evaluate that. We
want to see their range and their imagination, their quickness to
respond to direction. It's a way for us to clarify our decision.
Somebody could have beautiful legs and feet, but if that's all they
have and they're totally blank up here [in the mind] and can't do
anything else, can't communicate with the public, then they are not
ready for us."
"We're testing a different aspect of their talent. Some will be OK
with it, some won't. For us it's easy to find the ones that fit right
away. It's easy to find the ones that don't fit at all. The ones in
the gray area, that's the hard part. Can we see them in one of our
shows? There are so many questions, so you test. We give them a
chance to show us what they can do, and if they can respond well."
Anne-Marie often has to remind the artists not to move. Playing a
character while not moving, Richard says, is "incredibly telling. The
hardest part for an artist is to just stand there and project. It's
easy to attract attention by a whole bunch of frantic movement."
Is it the same process with musicians as well? "Musicians it's a
little bit different because they are often in the background, or in
the booth. But we do a little exercise with them to see their
openness. Are they willing to participate with us or not? If you're
not willing to be taken outside your comfort zone you might not be the
best person to go into a creation. Also we want to know how easy they
are to work with."
2:40pm - Time for a different exercise, this time a group improv.
With this exercise, "we want them to show their creativity outside of
dance, their versatility," Richard advises.
3:12pm - Time for a break. As the remaining candidates relax in the
back room, LouAnna asks if she can get a group photo. They all huddle
together and smile as if they were already a close-knit family.
Shortly afterward, Anne-Marie asks if anyone has anything special they
would like to share. If any of them has a specialty now's the time to
show it! The Argentinean couple hands Richard a CD. With the video
camera watching they perform a dance number, and they shine. They are
very good! One candidate (influenced by street dancing) does a work-
in-progress improvisation of an opera singer interrupted by a piece of
hip-hop music and becoming influenced by it.
3:30pm - Taps does a tap number. To our eyes she isn't as polished
and technical as we were expecting. One sings a song a cappella. The
girl from Toronto shows off her athletic prowess, striking various
gymnastic poses. Another also shows some skills. Anne-Marie asks her
to do splits to both sides, which she executes flawlessly.
3:45pm - Anne-Marie announces a final exercise.
4:10pm - A break, and more cuts. Another girl is cut, as is Toronto.
We were disappointed; we had been rooting for her since this morning
when she had entered the building with us. She had gotten so far only
to be cut at the last minute. But in watching her we could see she
lacked maturity in her movements and thinking. To her credit she
waits until the audition is over, asking Anne-Marie for feedback about
why she wasn't chosen.
Out of an initial group of 27, the group is down to 8, less than a
third of what they started with. These are the finalists, the ones
going into the database with positive marks and video highlights.
While being videotaped, each is asked to walk from the left side of
the room to the right, then forward to the audition table. What can
you tell about a person by the way they walk, we ask Richard. "Self
confidence. And posture. For singers it's very revealing. In
Saltimbanco for example the singer has to walk in high heels, so we
need to make sure the candidate would be able to walk with such shoes
When they reach the camera Anne-Marie stands next to them for a
moment. Everyone at Montreal IHQ knows Anne-Marie, Richard mentions,
so at 5' 10" tall she is used as a height comparison. Then they speak
their name and anything they would like artistic directors to know.
They also sing. "We like to test the voice. They don't necessarily
have to sing, but if they sing well and a creator wants to use that
then we know they have it. It's a process of documentation. We try
to document everything and not miss anything. Because that one little
thing may be the difference between their getting the job and not
getting the job."
4:46pm - The street-influenced dancer does her walk-up. At the end
she points excitedly to herself and exclaims, "Pick Me! I'm the one!"
Everyone laughs at her enthusiasm.
5:12pm - The audition is finished. Gathered again in a semi-circle,
the entire audition team solicits feedback from the artists on how the
audition went, what they liked, what they didn't like. This is as
important a part of the process as the auditions themselves are for
the team. Richard leaves his seat beside us to listen to the
Each remaining artist is given a letter with a form to fill out.
Several sit cross-legged on the floor, bending far forward to reach
the paper as they write their information. The letter begins:
"CONGRATULATIONS! YOU'VE MADE THE FIRST CUT! We are adding your name
to our list of potential candidates. Of course, this does not
represent an immediate commitment on our part. Making it through this
first stage means that you may be selected for a position requiring
your expertise. What happens now?" The letter asks for a photocopy
of their passport (and advises them to keep it valid) as well as a
recent resume and videocassette, and reminds them to keep Cirque
appraised of any changes to their contact information. The letter
concludes, "If we wish to approach you about replacing someone in one
of our current shows or in any new production, someone from our
Casting Department in Montreal will contact you. Please be patient
while you wait to hear from us." There is also a form asking for a
more detailed breakdown of their skill set.
We ask Richard, as things are winding down, what he finds most
rewarding and challenging about his job. The challenge in working for
Cirque, Richard notes is not so much doing the work as it is thinking
about how you're doing it. "You constantly have to re-examine your
process and question it. To see if it's still valid, if you're going
in the right direction, if you can do it better. It's the same thing
creators do with shows, from show to show; you do Varekai, now what
next? How can you do better? We go through the same process with our
techniques, our process of auditions and casting. It's challenging
because you're not second-guessing yourself, you're questioning.
"It's part of our day-to-day routine. [After every audition day] we
sit down and ask, "How did we do today? Are there things we did that
we could have done better?" And we find we can push our limits and
find new ways to do our thing. What we did 10 years ago may not work
now, so you try something else. It's always encouraging to find
you're able to do it, it gives you hope and an incentive to go through
that questioning process; it's not threatening anymore. I think it
makes us better at what we do. It makes us better people, too."
Being able to work for a company you love and respect is a blessing
too few of us enjoy. But not so for Cirque du Soleil employees.
"There's a pride to working for Cirque. Yes, there's a lot of work;
Cirque is a big machine and there's lots of work to be done. But
people work incredibly hard. The interesting thing is that a lot of
them will work late into the evening, 7-8pm. The scouts are renowned
for working late and hard. Me too!
"And it's because we love our jobs. I don't have any problem getting
up in the morning to go to work. Going on an audition trip for me is
a treat but I don't mind having to go home (to Montreal) and catch
"You're proud of what you do and you want to do a good job. Like the
scouts, looking for a particular type of artist. They'll search all
over the world until they find what they're looking for. (This was
strongly illustrated in "Fire Within" as they searched for a male
singer.) That feeling is so strong that they want to deliver a good
product. Because they know they have to live up to the quality of
Cirque, or better it."
"Cirque treats us right. At the Cirque Headquarters there are lots of
things they do to enliven the atmosphere. Sometimes on Friday they'll
have a big popcorn machine and they'll give us popcorn. Or the winter
carnival. They organize trips for us to ski in the winter. So
there's always something. And we get a lot of feedback. The letters
people send are distributed throughout the company, "Here's the effect
"All those t-shirts [you see Cirque employees wearing], they're free
for us. And we're proud to wear them. Like my Cirque jacket, I love
that jacket. When I'm in the Montreal subway and I'm wearing my
Cirque jacket, I won't sit down. I'll stand with my back to the
biggest window of the car so the back of my jacket, with the Cirque
logo, can be seen through the window."
"At one point, Cirque was voted one of the best places in Canada to
work, and I agree!"
Cirque du Soleil has worked hard to achieve and maintain its
reputation as the premiere circus arts production company. They have
literally changed the face of circus, and have grown far beyond its
creator's wildest dreams. But as Richard reminds us, it didn't start
out that way. "I don't think Cirque du Soleil took on the mandate of
changing the world of circus. Yes, one of the shows was titled, "We
Reinvent the Circus" but I don't think that was meant as pretentiously
as people think. There is one goal, and Guy reminds us of it all the
time, to bring a smile to people faces. That may sound a bit hokey,
but that's what it is. You put on a good show so that for an hour and
a half people forget their problems and have a good time."
"It just happened that in the process all those other things [came
about]. And I think that's because of the integrity of keeping that
goal. It's not about money, it's about putting out good product so
that people live a wonderful experience through our shows and
"And it brings good people to work for us. The working conditions at
Cirque are really good, the artists and employees are well treated.
And that's why we are able to get good people, good creators. That's
why we end up with the type of product we have, because we innovate."
And it all comes back to the man at the top of the triangle, Guy
Laliberte. "I think the people that work for him have a lot of
respect for him because of his vision and the way he runs the company.
Because of what he gives back to us and to the community with Cirque
du Monde and all that. Anybody who has that kind of vision is OK in
5:23pm - The artists leave, knowing they're going into the database
and, as is typical of the artist's life, may or may not be called.
The audition team packs up and leaves, their day far from over. They
will spend the rest of their evening de-briefing the day and making
notes, ending about 10pm. They will then move on to the auditions in
their other disciplines, staying in Seattle another two weeks.
And the artists will go on with their lives, hoping for that special
We'd like to express our deepest gratitude to those special Cirque
people who helped us immeasurably with this series, most especially to
Richard Dagenais - Head of Auditions and Logistic, Casting (our host)
for his openness and willingness to let us in on the process. Also to
the rest of the Seattle audition team; Anne-Marie Duchène - Artistic
Scout, Charles St-Onge - Audition Coordinator, and Charmaine Hunter -
Dance Evaluator. Also thanks to Chantal Côté - Corporate Publicist,
and Simon Frances - Marketing Agent, Casting for helping arrange our
day. And finally, thanks to all of the artists who allowed us to
eavesdrop on their job interview.
END OF PART TWO
# # #
At the end of part two we concluded our coverage of Cirque dancer auditions
that took place in Seattle. After the day was over we had the opportunity
to speak with two of the artists who were selected as active
candidates to go into the Cirque du Soleil database. They kindly
spent a few minutes to talk with my wife LouAnna and I.
Morgan McConnell is a 30 year-old graphic designer from Vancouver.
His work can be seen at his nifty website, www.dangerboydesign.net.
Janine Teidi (Juh-neen Tee-dee) is 33 and originally hails from
Buffalo, New York. She dances with Lingo Dance Theater in Seattle
(www.lingodance.com). She also teaches "Slo-Body" movement, a Yoga-
based technique (www.slobody.com) and "YogaBeans" a movement program
for children 3 and up (www.yogabeans.com).
KJ: How long have you been dancing?
MORGAN: 4 years.
JANINE: 30 years. I started when I was 3 and now I'm 33, pretty much
the whole way through, some times more than others. For the last 10
years I've been trying to figure out how to be an artist and make a
living from my artistry. And that's part of why Cirque du Soleil is
so enticing. My skills as a dancer/gymnast - I don't really like to
call myself a gymnast anymore - but as an artist I feel I would fit
with them, so it's worth training and coming to auditions, seeing what
I need to do and training some more. It's worth it, totally worth it.
KJ: What's your background?
JANINE: Mine is dance.
MORGAN: None. Never done gymnastics, martial arts, anything really.
I started out with fire dancing. I went to a club and I saw this guy
spinning fire, I'd never seen that before. Just this little guy with
this big stick spinning and rolling around on the floor - and I
thought, "That's the coolest thing I've ever seen. I could do that!"
So I picked it up and went from there.
KJ: How did you find out about Cirque du Soleil?
MORGAN: I met an ex-performer when I was in Australia. She saw a
show I did and said, "That was great. You really should send Cirque
an audition tape." So I sent them a videotape, I never would have
otherwise. And they invited me to this audition in Seattle. I was in
Australia at the time but thought, "Why not? I'm going home [to
Vancouver] anyway." It was easy to adjust my schedule a bit.
JANINE: This isn't my first Cirque du Soleil audition. I auditioned
[for them] first in 1998, in Atlanta; I flew there from New York. It
was just a one-day audition, and I got all the way through to the end
and they put me on their active files. But I didn't send them a shred
of information and sort of wrote it off. Five years later I got an
email saying, "We want you to come to an audition in Vegas." And my
boyfriend said, "You have to go!" I was almost going to delete it but
then I started thinking about it, and yes, I had to go. And I went to
Vegas and I was cut in the first cut. I was mortified.
KJ: Did you find out why were you cut?
JANINE: Actually, they weren't up front about giving feedback to the
people who were getting cut at that audition. There were a lot more
people and the space wasn't arranged very well. There was nowhere to
go and sit, we had to go outside, and everybody was kind of smushed
together. That created a completely different atmosphere. But it was
eye opening because we just did an hour of ballet and I got cut and I
thought, "Oh, this is what I need to be doing." It kicked my butt.
But I came back and went to ballet class every day until this
audition. It shows, and I'm so glad I did it. I was thinking, "Damn
it, I'm better than that!" Ballet isn't my strong suit.
MORGAN: That's where having specialty skills comes in handy.
JANINE: Yeah. I can walk on my hands, but I didn't get to do any of
that. We didn't get to anything else; it was just straight-up ballet.
So I wrote [Artistic Scout Anne-Marie Duchène] an email as soon as I
got back saying, "After all that arranging and flying there and [other
things] my audition sucked. I know you're going to be in Seattle, can
I come to that?" And she let me and I made it all the way through.
So I've been through it three times now, and I would do it again if I
had the chance.
KJ: I assume you've both been through several auditions, how does
this audition process compare to other auditions?
MORGAN: This is my first audition.
JANINE: I love that you (Morgan) have only been doing this for four
years and you might get a spot in a show like this.
MORGAN: I love it too! (Laughs) I've done shows before but it's
never been through an audition. It's been more like, "We need
dancers, we need volunteers, quick, come!" Community productions,
stuff like that. When I was in Australia I did a lot of those but
never anything like this.
JANINE: This is a lot longer than other auditions I've been to. I've
gone to auditions where you can't even ask questions. They show you
something and you do it across the floor four at a time - "OK, we're
cutting." That's a different situation, a cattle call, where they're
auditioning you and you are dancers, and they don't break down that
barrier [like they did here]. You see it in Backstage Magazine, grab
your resume and headshot, go in, there are 150 people - it's a whole
different situation. Here you've already auditioned to be invited to
the audition. They've done a first cut. They're not going to see a
lot of people. They're being particular about who they're going to
see in person. And that's different from a lot of others.
But I don't audition a lot. I did when I was in New York, but not a
lot when compared to others I knew who auditioned all the time. They
would have three auditions in a day and I would have one. And one was
enough! But I don't think I got as much out of those auditions as I
got from this one. I really think they're learning experiences,
especially as I get older.
It was great to go to that audition in Vegas though it cost me a lot
of money. It really changed things for me as an artist. Because I
live in Seattle, and Vegas dancers are a lot different than Seattle
dancers. There's not a lot of competition dance here or real
contortion-ey or jazzy dance. It's a very modern scene [in Vegas],
where it's very ballet here. So all these competition dancers and
cruise ship-type dancers and Vegas contortion-like dancers were there,
and I thought, "Oh yeah, I remember this scene."
And then we did ballet, and I hadn't been to ballet class in months.
And I thought, "Oh yeah, I'm supposed to remember how to stand in
fifth position if I'm going to call myself a professional dancer." It
just was an eye opener. I want to call myself a professional dancer;
that's what I do, I dance with a company. And I want to be more
proficient. I would like to be able to teach a ballet class if this
is what I'm doing to do. So it pushed me, and I knew I had this
audition [in Seattle]. I wanted to come in and have them say, "Wow!
That was the same girl?" And that's what happened. (Smiles)
KJ: (to Morgan) You've not been through an audition process before,
what did you think of this process?
MORGAN: It was extremely challenging. (Janine agrees.) It pushed me
so hard. There were times I just wanted to leave. But you can't turn
around after coming this far and say, "I can't handle it." I've been
in situations where I've done shows and I tell them I do fire dancing
and they tell me, "Well, this is the choreography, and we're doing
[this]." And I'd tell them, "No, I don't do that." And I felt that
with this audition. But I knew I was here for a reason, they want to
see what I can do and I'll just fight my way through the discomfort,
and there was a lot. I've never done acting, never done character
stuff or anything like that, so that was a huge challenge. A tree?
How do I become a tree?
KJ: What do you take away from this audition? Anything you felt you
learned? What impressed you most about what you did, other than the
fact that you were picked and made it to the end?
MORGAN: I was impressed by the level of talent. I expected it - to
get this far you have to be good at what you do - but I had no idea
what to expect. I didn't expect so many dancers, I was expecting
jugglers and acrobats and contortionists and unicyclists. People did
some really amazing things. It made me feel really humble just to see
the amount of time [people have spent at their art], like 30 years [as
Janine has done]. And I've just been in it for 4. (Laughs) The
commitment people have is astounding. And for lots of people who put
that amount of time into their work this is the pinnacle of their
KJ: I've heard from many people that if you want to work for somebody
in a circus arts/performance type of situation, Cirque is the one.
And everybody else is somewhere below them. But I also keep tabs on
chat lists and places where 15-16 year-old kids write, "I want Cirque
to be my first job." And I want to say to them, "Go out and get more
experience." (Both nod.)
MORGAN: It is that type of circus. They don't take the fresh faced.
KJ: I've been told they only hire about 200 artists per year.
JANINE: Of course that's not what we want to hear right now.
KJ: But they also replace 20% of their artists each year.
JANINE: Makes sense though if you look at the caliber of performers.
You wonder how long they can possibly do that. The tumbling is hard
core. Even though in Alegria they are on tumble tracks, [which
lessens the intensity on your joints] you're still compressing,
compressing, you're landing, landing, landing. You can only do that
for so long, I learned that from gymnastics.
Fortunately in this day and age and with technology people are doing
things longer. I see people dancing into their 40's. And I remember
when I was 23 people said, "Aren't you getting kind of old?" And here
I am 33 and still doing it and I feel better than ever. I feel strong
and I'm not in pain all the time. I heard some [of the younger ones
today saying], "What are you going to do when you're 34?" And I was
laughing because I was doing a handstand on the wall and I was
thinking, "I'm 33 baby, and you have no idea." (Laughs)
KJ: So what happens now?
JANINE: My dance troupe is doing some great things. The company I'm
working with is just starting to take off. They're bringing some
French presenters to our rehearsal today, right now in fact. When our
Artistic Director told us I was concerned because I had this audition
today. So they had to put someone in my role for the segment they
were going to show. And I would love to go to France, so I was torn.
I wanted to be here, but I also really wanted to be there with them.
And we just found out that we're doing another showcase for presenters
in Dusseldorf, Germany. So it's possible we'll do a European tour.
I was hoping I would make it all the way through [here], and it would
end with, "Here you go, you're on our active files, send us a copy of
your passport." But I've been on their active files for five years.
For them to call me back is an honor in itself. It makes me think
there must have been something they liked. And for me to do really
crappy in Vegas, ask for another chance, and for them to let me try
again, they must have that sense that they believed I had something to
KJ: What about you, Morgan?
MORGAN: I do graphic design. That's my primary occupation, this is
just secondary. I just moved to Vancouver about a month ago and my
business is just kicking in. I've got a couple of clients there plus
some I got in Australia. And I'll explore the performance community
Most of the time what I'll do is at 11 o'clock at night I'll take my
sticks out and put on my Walkman and go spin for an hour. Though now
that I've seen what's expected I wouldn't mind taking some flexibility
classes or some martial arts classes to make my body more flexible.
At that point we had to call our interview to a close so we could all
go home and rest after a hard, heady day of discovery. And they, like
the others, will go on with their lives and hope for that phone call
from Cirque du Soleil.
If you'd like to see some of Morgan's graphic design, check out
www.dangerboydesign.net. The dance company Janine works with can be
found at www.lingodance.com. She also teaches, check out
www.slobody.com for information on Slo-Body Yoga movement, and
www.yogabeans.com for her yoga and movement program for children.
Our sincere thanks to Janine and Morgan for spending time with us.