From the Big Top to Broadway: Does Cirque Du Soleil Have What It Takes to Tackle the Great White Way?

By Holmes, Kathryn | Dance Magazine, May 2016 | Go to article overview

From the Big Top to Broadway: Does Cirque Du Soleil Have What It Takes to Tackle the Great White Way?


Holmes, Kathryn, Dance Magazine


It's mid-February, two months before Cirque du Soleil's Paramour begins previews on Broadway, and the full cast and creative team have come together at Grumman Studios on Long Island for their second-ever "stumble-through" of the first act. The setting is Hollywood's Golden Age, and the leading men, film director A.J. and composer Joey, are both in pursuit of actress-poet Indigo's heart.

While the actors sort through their love triangle, Paramour's dance ensemble rehearses a rousing Wild West number, complete with do-si-dos, heel-kicks and fouette turns. In the same scene, the show's acrobats mark through a series of tumbling, teeterboard and Russian beam tricks. Director Philippe Decoufle and associate creative and staging director West Hyler pace in front of the stage, observing the action. Choreographer Daphne Mauger races from performer to performer, giving one-on-one corrections. Despite the controlled chaos, there's excitement in the air.

"In its 30 years of existence, Cirque du Soleil has become known for visual spectacle, physical virtuosity and incredible music and costumes--so it seemed only natural for the next step forward to be a dive into storytelling," says Scott Zeiger, the president and managing director of Cirque du Soleil Theatrical, a new division of the company that focuses on story-driven productions.

With Zeiger's guidance, Cirque hopes to enter a new market-though this isn't the company's first attempt at a song-and-dance show. One of its few missteps, the vaudeville-infused Banana Shpeel, closed after just six weeks in New York City in 2010 amidst poor reviews that said the show was not cohesive. "From that ill-fated production, Cirque learned its lesson about needing to drive story as much as beauty and acrobatics," Zeiger says.

Cirque du Soleil maintains long-running productions in Las Vegas, Walt Disney World and Tokyo, and has had a lot of success with its touring arena shows. But the company has never secured a permanent home in New York City, though productions that have toured there have done exceedingly well. One major hurdle: finding the right space. "Two years ago, we started with discussions of what a Cirque show might look like in a Broadway house," says Zeiger. "We toured every theater on Broadway. The Lyric"--which was once home to the stunt-focused Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and, most recently, On the Town--"was the best suited for the acrobatic feats our audiences expect." The Lyric Theatre is one of the largest Broadway houses, with nearly 1,900 seats, and is comparable in size to Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas venues.

For the creative team, Zeiger and Cirque's creative guide Jean-Frangois Bouchard hired both Cirque visionaries and Broadway veterans to ensure that story and spectacle went hand in hand. Decoufle, a French choreographer and director known for large-scale, innovative, abstract dance productions, was teamed with Hyler, whose directing credits include the national tour of Jersey Boys and the Big Apple Circus.

The cast also represents the coming together of two worlds. There are 22 acrobats and 16 musical theater veterans in Paramour. That's more performers than a typical Broadway show, but far fewer than Cirque's biggest productions, which feature as many as 60 people.

To accommodate the smaller cast the budget mandated, Paramour's acrobatic choreographer Shana Carroll (who performed with Cirque du Soleil for years before co-founding a circus troupe, Montreal's 7 doigts de la main) was tasked with finding multitalented acrobats. "Normally, Cirque can use really specialized performers," she explains. "For this, our acrobats had to have two or three skills--otherwise the puzzle wouldn't fit together. …

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