More than 25 years ago, a group of 20 street performers in Quebec got together and decided to put a new spin on the old fashioned circus.
More than 100 million spectators on five continents later, Cirque du Soleil is an unstoppable force in global entertainment. Currently presenting 20 different shows around the world, Cirque du Soleil employs 5,000 people, including 1,200-plus artists from nearly 50 different countries.
Three of them -- saxophonist Ben Harrison, juggler Patrick McGuire and Spanish Web performer Jean-Philitte Viens -- are in town through Sunday as part of the 52-member cast of Quidam, which is currently showing at the Valley View Casino Center.
Quidam first premiered in 1996 as a tent show in Montreal, but since then, has played to millions. This is its first run as an arena attraction in North America.
Harrison, McGuire and Viens all come from different cities and backgrounds but now join forces every night (and many afternoons) to tell Quidam’s story of a young girl who escapes her mundane reality by escaping into an imaginary world of colorful characters.
Scott McDonald: Where are you from originally?
Ben Harrison: I am from Australia.
Patrick McGuire: I grew up in Pittsburgh and also spent time in Phoenix and Philadelphia.
Jean-Philitte Viens: I’m from Montreal.
SM: How long have you been with the company?
BH: I joined in December of last year.
PM: I first started working for the company in ’93 as part of Mystere. It fell into my lap. I worked for them for six years and then came back eight years later on a temporary contract, did it for awhile and left, and now I’m back. It’s been an on again/off again thing for me with the company. But my process was unique. Cirque hired Michael Motion to create a new juggling act. He called a buddy and asked if he knew any young jugglers who were good. I got the call from his buddy and went to meet him at a juggling festival in Philadelphia. Michael Motion called me a little while later, which was great because he was a huge idol of mine, and he invited me to New York and hired me for the show. That was it. Right out of high school I got a professional gig and moved to Las Vegas.
JPV: This is my first contract with Cirque du Soleil.
SM: What brought you to Cirque du Soleil?
BH: I first got a call in 2007, but I was still in school at the time, so I passed on it, just because I wanted to finish my education. Then last year, I thought, “Why not send in an audition tape?” Purely coincidentally, I was in Montreal finishing school when they called me back, so I finished up with school and I took it.
PM: I trained as a juggler when I was a kid, and I got very lucky. Two weeks after I graduated high school, I was in Montreal working with Cirque du Soleil. It was just one of those “right place at the right time” kinds of things.
JPV: The vertical rope is my specialty, and I’ve been doing it for five years. It’s just something I decided to do because it was interesting. I started out of a circus school in Montreal because I saw it in a show, thought it looked like fun and decided to give it a try. For a while, I was going to university during the day and circus school at night. A lot of people come from a gymnastics background, but mine is martial arts. I did 15 years of karate before doing the vertical rope. But I guess I just didn’t like fighting that much. Performing is much more fun. And being part of Cirque has been great.
SM: Can you tell me something unique about your experience in Quidam?
BH: There are seven of us in the band, and we really get along well. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s somewhat of a hazard to have the performers to watch every night. Sometimes you get so engrossed in what’s happening onstage that you have to say, ”Wait a minute, I’m supposed to be playing music here.”
PM: What’s unique about Cirque du Soleil is that at one point, everyone is the center of attention and doing their skill up-front, and then everyone is also part of the ensemble at some point. It’s also one of my favorite shows. It’s one of the last shows that Franco Dragone did, and I really think he is responsible for the success of Cirque du Soleil.
JPV: When I first started, it was not the most welcomed of ideas in my family. I think my parents just wanted me to finish my bachelor’s degree, and I did that, so they were happy. But as soon as I got my contract with Cirque, they were thrilled. But it does make them nervous. The first time my mom saw me perform, she screamed out load no less than three times. But she’s gotten used to it now. And Quidam is actually my favorite show of them all. It’s really been a great experience.