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Specials: Behind the Curtain

"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 stage.

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 < 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 processes."

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 warming up.

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 well used.

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 now 37.

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 something."

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."


# # #

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 truly begins.

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 people."

"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 exercises."

"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 acting."

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 number.

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 ( 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 minutes).

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 Richard.

"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 things."

"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 process."

"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 not natural."

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 on."

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 discussion.

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 up."

"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 you have.

"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 appreciate it."

"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 my book."

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 phone call.

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.


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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,

Janine Teidi (Juh-neen Tee-dee) is 33 and originally hails from Buffalo, New York. She dances with Lingo Dance Theater in Seattle ( She also teaches "Slo-Body" movement, a Yoga- based technique ( and "YogaBeans" a movement program for children 3 and up (

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 careers.

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. (Laughter)

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 offer.

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 there.

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 The dance company Janine works with can be found at She also teaches, check out for information on Slo-Body Yoga movement, and for her yoga and movement program for children.

Our sincere thanks to Janine and Morgan for spending time with us.

Cirque Corner