Susan Gaudreau, director at the Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, speaks to Priya Singh about the troupe’s India tour and the future of circus as a performing art.
Cirque du Soleil is a Canada-based entertainment company known the world over for having reinvented and modernised the traditional form of circus. The troupe has just concluded the Mumbai leg of its debut Indian tour, and is now performing regular shows of a set titled Bazzar at Delhi’s GMR Aerocity, until 20 January 2019. Susan Gaudreau, show director at Cirque du Soleil, speaks to Guardian 20 about, among other things, the new show and the kind of preparation that went into it.
Q. Tell us about your new show Bazzar. How much time did you take to prepare the troupe for this show?
A. Cirque du Soleil’s Bazzar takes place in an eclectic lab of infinite creativity where a joyful troupe of acrobats, dancers and musicians crafts an awe-inspiring spectacle. Lead by their maestro, they band together to invent a whimsical one-of-a-kind universe. In a place where the unexpected is expected, the colourful group imagines, builds and invents vibrant scenes in an artistic and acrobatic game. We have been planning our entry in India for the past four years, including almost two years for the creation of the show.The artistes had been practicing for several months prior to the premiere of the show [which happened on 11 November 2018].
Q. What sort of response have you been getting from your Indian audiences?
A. We are very happy with the response we have received so far from the Indian audiences. We offer a window to a different kind of reality through live entertainment. We believe Cirque du Soleil is complementary to Bollywood movies. The Indian film industry is so creative and advanced that Indian audiences already have an open mind in regard to art and creativity.
Q. How crucial is the role of costumes in a show like Bazzar?
A. Bright, colourful and original costumes, and make-up are signature to the remarkable aesthetics of Bazzar. Cirque du Soleil’s state-of the-art costumes are part of its DNA and have been a show trademark worldwide. For Bazzar, the visual connection between costume and space is important. Costumes and props needed for the various Cirque du Soleil shows are created in Montreal, in the costume workshops. This workshop, the only one of its kind in North America, employs specialists in shoemaking, textile design, lace-making, wig-making, patternmaking, costume-making and millinery.
Q. Which are the most important elements that a director such as yourself has to keep in mind in order to put together a successful show?
A. The most important objective for myself as a show director is to take the audience on an emotional journey, from the minute the show begins to after they walk outside the venue. I feel that the artistes onstage are the most important element, because it is through their performance on stage that we are made to feel emotions. They arrive on stage with humility and perform from their hearts out. The music, costumes, lighting, and makeup are there to support the feelings we are trying to convey.
Q. What are your views on the circus industry worldwide? Do you think it has been overshadowed by other forms of public entertainment?
A. We are no strangers to circus. It has been around for ages, but the industry has been constantly re-inventing the concept of traditional circus and has evolved over the years to create a new form of entertainment filled with excitement and amazement.
Q. What sort of challenges do you come across while preparing for overseas shows?
A. Designing a show specifically to introduce Cirque du Soleil to a totally new audience is a creative challenge. It pushes our creators to find our essence and articulate it in a way that is universally understandable. With its story centered on the creative process and the energy found in the unexpected, Bazzar shines a light on what is uniquely Cirque du Soleil. The challenge is always the same, create a show that will be nothing like what the audience has ever seen before, and we have been successful in this for more than 30 years.
Q. How has the circus industry changed over the years?
A. For the past 30-years, I have taken on numerous roles behind the scenes in the circus, special events, film, television, and dance industry, including 20 years as a dancer and choreographer in a variety of styles. Now, access to new technology allows us the freedom to present the circus arts from a fresh perspective. It allows us to elevate our creative product.
Q. Tell us about the artistes who are part of Bazzar.
A. At Cirque du Soleil, our casting team—composed of some 60 people, including more than 20 talent scouts—does everything in its power to find exceptional artistes for current and upcoming Cirque du Soleil productions throughout the world. They play a consulting role with various creation teams, directors and artistic directors by showing them acts or artistes discovered at auditions or scouting activities. The creation teams leave it up to the experts to find the talent that will give each show its unique character. Bazzar features an international cast of 30 performers and musicians. The cast comes from 13 different countries. Two of the performers are Indian.
Q. Which is your favourite Cirque du Soleil show to date?
A. In 2005, I joined Cirque du Soleil as an artistic coach on their numerous productions, collaborating with creators on Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson One, Michael Jackson The Immortal, Zarkana and Amaluna. Since 2013, I have created and directed special events and shows for numerous Montreal-based companies, including 45 Degrees. In 2014, Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities was my first engagement on a Cirque du Soleil show as acrobatic choreographer and in 2017, I acted as the show director for Cirque du Soleil’s “At Seas” productions. Obviously, these shows have a special place in my heart.
Bazzar is my second engagement as Director of a Cirque du Soleil touring show and for the first time, we are presenting a duo Mallakhamb act in a Cirque du Soleil performance. We created an incredible fusion of Mallakhamb and dance in a strong performance set to an original musical score. I am very excited for that one.
Q. What do you like most about being part of Cirque du Soleil?
A. Cirque du Soleil is a leader in live entertainment. Thirty years ago, they reinvented the circus arts and created a new form of entertainment centered on human performance, without animals. Today, they maintain that leadership by constantly being on the lookout for innovative technology and new types of performance and looks, for ways to integrate them in our shows.
This company is a great supporter of dreams. I feel blessed because I am able to work with collaborators that are the best in the business and who are fully supportive when it comes to bringing my visions to reality. I never stop learning in this company! I love how they challenge me to keep pushing my creativity.