Someone on Tumblr posted this video about the Cirque du Soleil audition process. It sparked way too many memories.
For those who didn't know, I am, shall we say, rather obsessed with Cirque. We share a birth year, if not a birthday (Cirque came into this world about six months before I did), and I saw my first show, a performance of their original North American production, Le Cirque Réinventé
during a holiday in New York when I was three. All I remember about that show is that I was terrified of clowns, and my mother reassured me that Cirque 'wasn't the kind of circus to have clowns', only to be greeted by a group of clowns who were doing the now-standard Cirque thing of wandering around as the audience was seated. I also remember that they got some ridiculous number of people on a bicycle
. But I was hooked.
They didn't tour Australia during my early childhood, so the next time I saw a Cirque production was when their show Saltimbanco
toured in 1997, when I was twelve. We were living in Canberra at the time, and they didn't include Canberra in the tour, so my father, sister and I made the trip to Sydney. I was awestruck. I loved the Russian swing act, the Chinese pole act, and above all, the adagio
. I was a gymnast at the time, and my sister and I took a circus skills class as part of a music summer camp, and we came away from that show starry-eyed and absolutely convinced that we would audition for Cirque as an adagio flyer and base. Our plans, of course, came to nothing, although we spent a lot of time that summer choreographing an adagio act that we would supposedly use in an audition. Considering the most difficult adagio pose we could do was 'flag' (where the flyer stands with one foot on the base's legs and the other wrapped around the base's neck, and then leans outwards, holding one of the base's hands, if you can imagine that), we wouldn't have had a snowflake's chance in hell of getting in, but it was fun to practice.
Cirque came back two years later with Alegria
, and we again made the trip from Canberra to Sydney, to fall in love all over again. This seems to have been the year when they really cracked Australia, because I remember seeing screenings of their shows on TV a lot after that. My favourites swiftly became Quidam
(whose story spoke to my teenage angst and whose banquine act remains my favourite thing seen on a stage, ever) and Dralion
, which has the most amazing music, costuming and choreography. I managed to see both of those shows live in Sydney. My sister and I were absolutely obnoxious throughout both performances, whispering literary analyses of the storylines and commentating on the acts with our (supposedly awesome) circus insider knowledge ('you can tell that that particular flyer is calling the act, watch his mouth, he's the one controlling the whole thing'; 'they've made it look like that dude is just dancing around, but watch him - he's spotting everyone - see how his eyes never leave the acrobats above him?'). I was absolutely ridiculous about this, utterly convinced that no one understood Cirque like we did
. I thought everyone besides us was bandwagon-jumpers. (We were the One - or Two - True Fans, you know?) I would mutter scathingly to my sister whenever the audience applauded something that I considered not applause-worthy ('*I*, a fairly average gymnast, can do that, why the hell are those ignorant idiots applauding?'), or, even more unforgivably, when they didn't
applaud something that was clearly awesome. I spent most of the performance of Dralion
in tears because I had wanted to see it live for so long. I sobbed my eyes out when I saw the Quidam banquine
act, like a Beatles fan at a show in the '60s. My sister and I had this elaborate plan whereby we'd go to the US and stay three nights in Vegas in order to see the permanent shows that Cirque had there. I had absolutely no desire to go to Vegas, but in order to see O
, in particular, I would make such sacrifices!
By the time Varekai
rolled around in 2006-7, my sister no longer wanted to play that game, and I'd grown up sufficiently to at least put a sock in it during the show. We were living in Sydney by that point, and saw a production in 2006. I loved Varekai
but didn't realise how much a part of my life it would become. In 2007, I moved back to Canberra to work as a newspaper subeditor. Initially, that job was only two days a week, so I took on other work. Including working for Varekai
during the two months they were in Canberra. I worked in the food stalls, selling popcorn, ice-creams, hotdogs and overpriced drinks to the audience. It was tough work - most importantly, the stalls had to be spotless when the audience could see them, which meant frantic cleaning during the two acts - but I loved it. We got to see the show once for free. But most importantly, when I worked, I felt like I was dancing. They set up a TV feed of the show so that we could gauge how long we would have before the audience was out, and to this day, certain songs from the soundtrack prompt a sense of anxiety and desire to scrub popcorn machines. I felt like a performer, a cog in a delicate and elaborate machine. Sure, I was just selling junk food to the masses, but the entire time I was working there, my brain would go into this kind of blissed-out state, interspersed with random rushes of adrenaline. The only thing that feels similar is the moment when I've been jogging for a long time, and my body ceases to hurt, my breathing comes easily and it's almost as if I am flying. There were people with Varekai
who had been working there in other cities, and would be following the show on when it left Canberra. I still wouldn't mind doing something similar.
That was the last Cirque show that I saw. I can't afford the tickets now that I'm back at uni and living overseas. I miss it so much. Every so often I binge on Youtube clips, but it's not the same thing. Because it went beyond the shows themselves, wondrous as they were. It was something that I associated with my family, like going to see Bell Shakespeare Company
productions (something that we did every year from 1996 until 2007, and which I miss almost as fiercely). I associate Cirque so strongly with my mother and sister that it would feel wrong to see a show with anyone else. And so it's become one of those things that I associate with childhood, something that is forever out of reach. Now that I think about it, Cirque was the first thing that I truly felt fannish about. I'm glad I wasn't aware of fandom then, because I would've been one of those horror-fans who winds being mocked on Encyclopædia Dramatica or Fandom Wank. I still love Cirque in much the same way (but without the snobby attitude towards other members of the audience, because that was just ridiculous, although in keeping with the pomposity I had at that age) and I long for the day when I can make it a part of my life again.