CONTENTS

Since its inception in 1984, Québec-based Cirque du Soleil has had strong ties to Gymnastics, recruiting from the ranks of the sport to fill its sparkling shows with performer-acrobats. For anyone who has dreamed of running off and joining the cirque, Bernard Petiot, a former gymnast and coach who has climbed the ladder to become Cirque’s Vice President of Casting and Performance, has some advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a particular profile you look for when you recruit?

Bernard Petiot: "The ideal is someone who understands that when he or she is onstage, they are not performing for themselves. They are performing for the public. They are open to bringing emotion to the public. For some of them it's harder because they're shy, but for most of them I would say that they understand the rules. After awhile it's like, ‘hey, I'm doing my trick, I'm doing my double back.’ But there's more than the double back: there's the character that you’re playing, there's the interaction with your peers onstage, and there's the interaction with the public."

When you cast for shows, is there a Gymnastics discipline that particularly interests you?

Petiot: "One of the dominant sports is Acrobatic Gymnastics, simply because it doesn't require any equipment. It's a sport that brings a certain advantage in terms of choreography for creating acts. After that it goes to Men's and Women's Gymnastics, certainly Men's Gymnastics, which offers a wide scope of ability.

Over the last five to seven years, we've recruited more athletes from Trampoline and Tumbling because we've developed new equipment and we needed people that are really good at being up in the air, with great spatial orientation.

So far we have not been successful the way we would like with Rhythmic Gymnastics, although they offer incredible performances. But we haven't found a way to stage Rhythmic performances well enough so that it pays good tribute to what the sport brings."

Do a gymnast’s competitive results matter to you when you consider hiring them? Is it that the better you are in competition, the better you’ll be at Cirque?

Petiot: "It's preferable if the athlete carries on in the sport as long as they can and then transitions to Cirque. At the end of the day, all the progress they’ve made will put them at the level we’re looking for and they'll be able to express that on the stage. But it's also up to the sport's organising body. Sometimes it's preferable not to go to Cirque. But at times when there are no chances to reach the World level or the Olympic level, the athlete sometimes asks, what's next for me? And then Cirque can be an option.

We are not looking to add Olympic medallists, unless that athlete is knocking at the door and saying ‘I want to work with you because this is my fundamental desire.’ Then for sure we'll keep the door open. But I would prefer that those figures stay in the sport and act as role models for the future, without closing the door for anybody who would want to work for us.”

  4 - 6x

Cirque was at one point seen as competitor for Gymnastics talent. How did you and the FIG move past that situation?

Petiot: "When I started that discussion with the FIG, we were trying to find a territory whereby we could agree on one major concept. The core of it is the search for excellence. And we agreed on both sides that Gymnastics creates excellence, and what we do is the same thing. Realizing that, we said OK, let's talk to each other, let's make sure that we are complementary in a certain way.

At the time what I was looking at was creating a cooperative situation instead of a conflicting situation by which Cirque du Soleil would not be perceived as a predator, in taking away this talent from the sport's governing bodies. It took awhile to create that climate, that atmosphere, that dialogue, and I have to say that in the eight years I've been working at it, it's really smooth now. It's not always easy because we have to look at when is the best time for an athlete to make the transition to Cirque, but it's working well. The focus is on the athlete during their sport career, and at a certain point, they can move on to Cirque if that's their desire."

How do you see the future of Cirque developing, what with the arrival of the Chinese as investors in your enterprise?

Petiot: "The future is good. We have a strong base. Cirque du Soleil has created a strong brand, and we have a new Chinese investor because they see there is a great potential for the future. This opens new possibilities in the Chinese market, and this will increase the possibility for us to express our creativity, moreso in China and Asia in general. We're doing pretty well in North America, and we're doing well in Europe with touring, though we haven't yet found solutions for having permanent shows in Europe."

What’s the biggest challenge Cirque faces today? Is there pressure with the new investors?

Petiot: "The current pressure for Cirque is to renew itself, to ensure that after more than 30 years of development that we find new ways to actually entertain people. We also keep pushing the limits. We are finding new show formats. That's where the pressure is. China has a big background in circus. It can only offer new possibilities for new acts and performances that we can show to the public."

As a showman, how do you see the development of Gymnastics in future years?

Petiot: "The Glasgow Worlds were a big, big step forward in finding a way to present the entertainment as well as the competition to the public. It was dynamic, it was done with style, and it allowed us to actually focus on the athletes. It's a good step forward. It's important to respond to the needs of the athletes, coaches and technicians, but who pays the bill at the end of the day? The spectators.

The new generation should also be considered, because they have a different way of consuming their entertainment. Gymnastics has to step into that world of technology and communicating and interacting, which is a little bit what happened in Glasgow. It was more immersive, it was fun. That's where it should go, while avoiding copying other sports. It has to find its own style and its own signature."

INTERVIEW

SEVEN QUESTIONS
WITH A CIRQUE
‘RINGMASTER’

BERNARD PETIOT, VICE PRESIDENT, CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

 

 

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