With the popularity of inter-disciplinary shows on the rise, it is common for circus shows to incorporate more dance and theater. But is it also common for dancers to experience opportunities to develop and display circus skills in performance? Perhaps not yet, but opportunities for dancers with skills beyond pure dance technique have been growing as this trend of mixed discipline shows takes root. One of the leading ballet schools in New York City, the Joffrey Ballet School, is embarking on a new adventure to offer such opportunities to their dancers. A new experimental one-week intensive in Las Vegas aims to inspire and cultivate dancers’ curiosity into the world of circus arts. The program’s artistic directors Maximilien Baud and Matthew Prescott are joined by Tiffany Baker, the dance supervisor from the Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson One show. We had a chance to sit down with Mr.Prescott and ask him about the program.
CircusTalk: Tell us about how this new initiative was born. Why is it important for the Joffrey Ballet School to reach out to circus or was it circus that reached out to the school?
Matthew Prescott: The program was inspired by our time last summer in Las Vegas at JBS jazz and contemporary summer intensive. During this intensive we had the Dance Supervisor from the Cirque de Soleil Michael Jackson ONE show, Tiffany Baker, work with the dancers to have an intimate experience with the show. Just like we do in the musical theater programs here in NYC and London we try to give the dancers an opportunity to really relate to the shows they are studying. After we had all seen MJ ONE and seeing how the students responded to the show we knew we had something special to explore. At JBS we are always trying to introduce students to the full potential of opportunities in the dance industry. Cirque du Soleil has a huge brand that reaches around the world. This means there are jobs and chances to live your dreams of performing professionally a reality in the circus world. Expanding young performers perspective about what possibilities are out there was a natural reason why we reached out for this partnership at Cirque du Soleil.
CT: What type of classes workshops are included in this intensive? Will the faculty be dancers or circus performers?
MP: The idea of the week intensive is to spark curiosity and strengthen skills in the circus arts world. Students will get classes in lyra, acro, prop manipulation, juggling, clowning, specialty dance classes, as well as others. All classes will be taught be by Cirque du Soleil performers and coaches. We will also be having a mock audition with the actual casting directors from Cirque du Soleil.
CT: What is the application requirement? Can circus artists apply who are looking for dance training or is the program better suited for dancers with athletic abilities?
MP: We are welcoming everybody into the program. There are participants that have never tried a cartwheel or a handstand in their life, but we also have participants with years of experience. Participants will be evaluated day one, and placed in appropriate groups based on skills. This being the Joffrey Ballet School we will probably attract more dance-based artists, but certainly would love to attract whoever wants to have a wonderful experience with us and Cirque du Soleil. In order to be considered for the program, you must audition at any jazz/contemporary and musical theater sites. You can also submit an online audition for the same programs.
CT: Does the Joffrey Ballet School plan to expand this cross-discipline exploration by collaborating with other, smaller, local and regional circus organizations in the future?
MP: We are so grateful and excited to be partnering exclusively with Cirque du Soleil on this project. We are always looking to partner and cross-collaborate with like-minded organizations. We would love any opportunities to work with other circus and performing schools as we continue to highlight this incredible world.
CT: In your opinion, what will be the outcome and highlight of such a collaboration?
MP: Our goal is really to give young performers an opportunity to take a peak into the possibilities that exist in the world of Cirque de Soleil. We want to push them to try something they have always been curious and a little scared to try. We want to continue to cross-pollinate our ideas as ballet, contemporary, and musical theater performers with the magic of the circus. We hope to ignite a passion in the young performers to seek out where they belong in this vast world of the performing arts.
Images are courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet School. Main Photo by Rachel Neville.