In this series called “Meet a Circus Grad” we give a voice to recently graduated or graduating circus artists, to learn about their experience at circus school, and to get a clearer picture of how circus schools around the world operate and prepare their students for the circus workforce.
In this second edition, we spoke with Mizuki Shinagawa, an international student who tells us her story about recently graduating from Ecole Nationale de Cirque. Tissue is a popular aerial apparatus, but Shinagawa has added new dimension to the art form by developing a unique style that not only impresses the audience with her physical strength and capability, but also shines a light on her understanding of music, rhythm, shapes and how a body can present emotion. Her powerful movement on the tissue blends dance and drama, creating an emotional arc to the performance and is unlike much of what we have seen thus far in expression on this apparatus. In this article, we will attempt to grasp what conditions create a unique and dynamic performer like Shinagawa.
Home country: Japan
Fun fact: Mizuki became interested in circus as a career because of an anime show!
Location: Montréal, Canada
Degrees offered: BA equivalent, Secondary School Diploma, initiator (180 hours), instructor (360 hours) and trainer (765 hours)
General Director: Éric Langlois
Applications due: January
Fun Fact: The ENC facility houses one of the world’s few brick-and-mortar circus libraries with a searchable database that is “dedicated to both circus arts creation and their living memory.”
Fiona Bradley: What led you to your choice between schools? Why did you choose ENC?
Mizuki Shinagawa: I didn’t know about any circus school when I was in Japan. I heard about ENC, which is the biggest and best circus school right across the street from Cirque du Soleil. I wanted to audition and work with Cirque du Soleil, but I was too young at the time. My parents didn’t accept the idea of me working. So I decide to go to this school.
FB: What was your experience like moving to Montréal from Tokyo?
MS: The experience of moving to Montreal from Tokyo at first was a big culture shock. It was my first time moving from Japan to another country, and also my first time by myself on a long trip. I couldn’t understand anything, and it was really hard to communicate with people, but I had to try to do everything myself. I got really strong mentally. That was a really big step and a big adventure. It was also the hardest thing I had ever done. So now I can overcome any hardship.
FB: In your opinion, did your experience as an international student seem to be different from that of the local students?
MS: Yes, it was different. It was so much effort to travel to Montréal from far away, and also the language was a problem. Being from Asia, I couldn’t understand English, and French was really hard and different. It was a line between me and the local students.
FB: What do you think makes ENC different from other circus schools?
MS: The level of the students, the teachers and the amazing equipment, as well as the connections.
FB: What led you to creating a career as a circus artist?
MS: I saw the circus anime “Kaleido Star” on TV by chance and I was so completely fascinated by the main character of this anime that I decided to be a circus artist. I always wanted to be different from others.
FB: Tell us about the creation process of the final show? How was working with the director and cast?
MS: The creation felt long and sometimes difficult, but I had a really nice time working with the other people and the director.
FB: What was the inspiration or story of the final show?
MS: The inspiration was humans and nature.
FB: Can you tell us about the inspiration for your solo act? What was it about or what was the underlying idea?
MS: My character was the goddess and it was only ‘a color’ in the show. My inspiration was ‘above the sky’, an attempt to bring all of the energy from the ground to the air. I had to be really grand, really strong, and to receive no control from others. Taiko drum music played for the first half, and opera music for the second half of my act. I was singing with my body and expressing myself with the tissue which was more of an extension of my body.
FB: What has your experience been after school at ENC? Is it exciting or nerve wracking to be out of school and working?
MS: It is really exciting, it is freedom! The next day after the graduation, I flew back to Tokyo, Japan for a contract at a concert with a famous J-pop singer in Tokyo which is where I’m from. It was a super amazing experience and very exciting that I got to perform in Tokyo finally! Then I flew back to Montréal the next day after finishing the show, and started rehearsing right way for the Montréal Complètement Cirque street show. Now I finally have a break for three weeks!
FB: Do you think ENC prepares their students for all jobs done by a circus artists besides their technical skills and artistic work? Skills such as marketing, networking, costume designing, prop building, etc..?
MS: Yes, we had many different kind of classes and learned and prepared for working after we graduate. Also, we now have a lot of connections. Ultimately, I think it depends on the person to be ready for everything, along with being prepared in the technical skills and artistic work, but ENC is definitely supportive in that regard.
FB: How did your experience at ENC help you grow as an artist? Did the school help you to develop the unique style you have when approaching the tissue?
MS: They gave us lots of classes to get strong in different ways, and they also provided some hours with an artistic director to focus on our own act. We got to explore, to find inspiration. We had lots of options, it was creative and challenging. It is a fantastic place. These are fantastic conditions to create and receive direction to become a circus artist. I love to play around with the tissue, to explore and make something different. I look at myself while I research a lot. I’m always thinking about how I look from the outside.
FB: We heard that you participated in MCC this summer, what was that experience like?
MS: It was outside, with the wind and sun. This was my first street show. I performed my act three times a day, as well as duo straps. It was really hard, but I had so much fun! It was an amazing experience and it felt so different with an audience who was watching my act by chance. I also loved the reactions and the comments from the audience who didn’t know much about circus.
FB: What advice would you give a circus artist who is interested in auditioning for ENC?
MS: Always follow your desire and work to get what you want to get. You can never give up if you have a really strong dream. Live your passion and just do it! And be ready!
Related content: Meet a Circus Grad–Noora Pasanen of CNAC