The Delirium of Cirque du Soleil
Touring the headquarters of the world’s largest circus franchise is a lot like stumbling into the fantastical pages of a Roald Dahl classic. Simply substitute Willy Wonka for Guy Laliberté and a chimerical chocolate factory for Cirque du Soleil, and you have the genesis of a story so surreal, you wonder if it too might be fiction. With nearly 2,000 employees in-house, the Montreal-based command centre is the cornerstone for an international conglomerate that’s touched more than 100 million people in 300 cities with an artistic ingenuity that has juggled its way into an inimitable brand. Today, I play the role of Charlie.
“We call this alley ‘The Street’”, says publicist Marie-Noëlle Caron as she leads us down a hallway sidelined in corrugated steel panels. “It’s to remind us of where we come from,” she adds of a company that began at the dawn of the ’80s in a small town in Quebec City with a clique of 20 street performers. Before he became a renowned billionaire, Cirque du Soleil founder Laliberté was one of them. We duck into an opening on the left and enter a room known as the documentation centre. Filled with swelling bookshelves and DVDs, this is the pulse of the building, where artists and employees alike gather to get inspired. “When we did The Beatles’ “Love” tour, we pulled out everything that existed about [the band] so the creators –whether it was the director, the stage designer, the lighting director – could get direction,” she says.
Next, we head down a corridor past a concrete-coated cafeteria that’s bursting with natural light and designed, like the rest of the building, with raw materials intended to capture the essence of Cirque du Soleil’s early days. “Now we enter the workshops,” she says of a psychedelic realm where costumes are designed and conceived from head to toe. Artists’ shoes are made-to-measure from scratch by skilled artisans, while wigs are weaved one strand at a time by coiffeurs fitted on individual head moulds. Fabrics are dyed in massive vats and stirred by technicians with large wooden sticks before artists leave their legacies with whimsical brushstrokes.
The day winds down with a special preview of an 11-minute performance that leaves us revved up. Uniting with its corporate partner Inﬁniti, Cirque du Soleil artists prepare to put on an unprecedented live streaming event that will incorporate the luxury auto brand’s latest crossover. If there is a world where cars can ﬂy, it’s here. Five acrobats ﬂoat from the ceiling, supporting themselves with the webs of long fuchsia fabric they’ve weaved. With one quick tug, they effortlessly fall in synchrony. The performance is ephemeral, but it captures the essence of Cirque du Soleil’s mission “to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world.”
In the words of Willy Wonka, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” Perhaps that’s the golden ticket.