BY Julian Yap Joe Nin
Water for Elephants.
James Bond’s Octopussy.
Remember these two films?
I haven’t watched these films in a long time but what do they both have in common?
Scenes in a circus!
Yes, you heard me correctly.
It’s definitely a bit of an unconventional topic and many might be wondering how does a ‘circus’ relate to sports at all.
Well, you may be more than surprised to know that many of Cirque du Soleil’s performers are former Olympians – approximately 40% of them have competed and won medals in gymnastics, trampoline, diving and synchronised swimming.
Even, the company’s creative director Fabrice Becker was an Olympian himself – he represented France at the 1992 Winter Olympics and won a gold medal in freestyle skiing.
But really, when you think about it, it should not seem that surprising at all.
Cirque Du Soleil is not just any regular circus show in a tent.
Think about the show itself and all of its many circus acts.
Cirque’s performers have to consistently train everyday for hours – I don’t mean, just working out but the need to perfect every art of their act, this ‘strive for perfection.’
Their bodies are required to always be in the best shape possible so that it can keep up with all the shows – ‘those endless tour dates’.
Do they ever get a break?
Essentially, they are athletes.
Like an Olympian, I cannot imagine how hard Cirque’s performers have to work especially having to constantly travel from one city and country to another.
But there’s one main difference – these Olympians, now turned performers not only have to show people their very best. More importantly, they have got to perform not just once every four years, but daily in front of audiences who have come from all around the world.
That transition from a competitor to a performer on stage must be beyond tough and challenging.
Trying to nail a somersault on a trampoline or even, a jump, leap and turn in gymnastics is already hard enough.
Can you imagine now, having to do them while in costume?
That is a LOT of pressure.
Seriously, I have to commend every single performer in Cirque du Soleil – not only are they exceptionally skilled at their own craft but essentially, they always have to be mindful that one of their other jobs is to largely entertain an audience who have come in with huge expectations.
At least for me as an audience member and having been to one of their shows, I am looking for an escapism.
I want to be distracted from the reality that we are currently living in for some time.
How does Cirque achieve this?
Through the visual and innovative aesthetics of the stage.
The lavish sets and backdrop.
The extravagant costumes and dreamy makeup.
The enthralling storytelling told by its troupe playing all these different characters.
The fantasy of it all.
This is why up till this day, Cirque du Soleil remains as the largest theatrical producer and world-renowned auteur in the world of performing arts.
Another question many may also ask is why an Olympian would ever consider turning to performing in a circus.
One main reason comes to mind – their bodies are no longer able and suitable for competition.
If you think about it, it is actually an incredibly smart career move.
And, WHY NOT?
Olympic athletes get to practice the same sport that they love, which they have trained hard all their lives for but just use it at a different capacity – they showcase their talents as a performance instead of at a competitive level, which means that they don’t have to worry about always getting that every ‘move’ right or aiming for that gold medal.
They continue to make a living for themselves while dazzling audiences around the world, making them happy.
Really, it’s a win-win situation.
Here’s two of many former Olympians who have jumped on the circus train and have been very successful at turning it into a lifelong career.
Let’s start with American Christina Jones.
She competed at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
She did well but not good enough to stand on one of the three podiums.
Jones swam with her fellow Andrea Nott in the duet event and placed fifth. In addition, she also participated on the American team, which placed in fifth ranking in the synchronised team.
Now, she has become a synchronised swimmer in one of Cirque du Soleil’s most popular shows, ‘O’ that is housed at the famous Bellagio resort in Las Vegas.
This is a little insight by Jones herself into what she does in the show.
Even more interesting is that ‘O’ has the most former Olympians in the show, who come from all four corners of the Earth – Sergei Kudrevich from Belarus, Nayara Figueira from Brazil, Jenna Randall from Great Britain and Kanako Kitao-Spendlove from Japan.
Next up, Lee Brearley.
Like Jones, he did not win any medals.
But, he is one hell of an impressive fella.
This 37-year old was the first British male to compete in the sport of trampoline at the Olympic Games.
He competed in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney and is now an acrobat for Cirque du Soleil’s ‘OVO’, which is currently touring all over North America and soon to be in several countries within Europe.
In addition, Brearley is also a trampolinist on the Cirque du Soleil broadway musical, ‘Paramour’ in New York.
He made headlines there again – he is the only Olympian amongst a cast, made up of 10 former members of national gymnastics and acrobatic teams.
In Paramour, Brearley has a solo that may be short but is indeed, a show stopper.
His routine consists of doubles, pikes, twists and planks. He also does five or even, six low somersaults in one spot in rapid fire.
Talk about danger having to do this routine every single night.
Here’s a short interview of the man himself talking about his transition from an athlete to an artist.
Cirque du Soleil is one of a kind.
First and foremost, its show if you have not already been to one, GO!
And if it’s not already obvious, this company has made a name for itself by possibly becoming one of the most leading employers of past Olympians.
Needless to say, not every Olympian can become a performer.
But, Cirque du Soleil makes it worth a shot.
Talk about possibilities.