Dancing Cirque Style: A Conversation with Alison Crawford

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Corteo’s Artistic Director Alison Crawford danced with Karen Jamieson Dance Company and the EDAM Dance Company in Vancouver, B. C. before joining the Cirque du Soleil team. She served as an assistant in Quidam and spent a year in Santiago, Chile for Cirque du Monde—a Cirque du Soleil offshoot that stages circus workshops jointly with community organizations reaching out to youth-at-risk. She enlightens us on the joys and challenges of her job.

Dance Source Houston: Thanks for bringing Corteo to Houston, and thanks for pitching your tent so close to my house this time around. You have had an incredibly diverse dance life. When you were in the midst of your modern dance career, did you ever conceive you would become an artistic director of a Cirque show?

Ailson Crawford: No, I didn’t, but once I started working with my first Cirque show I knew this is where I wanted to be. When I finished dancing I went to this career without much of break. Dancers have this incredible discipline that allows us to go into these kinds of jobs because of the dedication and everything that comes with dance. We have a good eye.

DSH: What does your job entail?
AC: That’s a big question. I am not on tour all the time, but I go to every city and make sure the show doesn’t deviate. We have to keep true to the show’s original concepts. I also do casting. If we need to change a concept, if we are adding an act, I know which way to go. I make sure that every little decision that is made will comply with what was created.

DSH: On the press side there’s always a bit of a squabble between the dance and theater critics about who gets to review. As a former dancer and present dance critic I feel the show is rooted in motion. Do you agree?

AC: Yes I do, although Daniele Finzi Pasca (the show’s creator and director) comes from the theater world. For sure it’s a movement show and performed in the round so it’s competently three dimensional.

DSH: I see an artistic presence in the show from top to bottom, even in the way the performers get into place. Every moment is considered.

AC: That’s what makes Cirque different. Yes, you are right, the details in Corteo are very important. You don’t see the artists touching their costumes. This is not a competition. The artists are trained in all aspects of theatrical performance.

DSH: What qualities does a Cirque performer need beside no fear of heights?

AC: Passion, talent, dedication, an open mind, a willingness to work in a team, and a love of what they do.

DSH: How do the artists train?

AC: When they hired for a new creation they get an all round training that includes dance, theater, acrobatics, pilates, yoga and more. Then we have the experts in their field where they do their acrobatic work. When they will be working with brand new apparatuses, like the trample beds, we bring in expert coaches. It’s an extensive training process.

DSH: Acrobatics seems to be making a comeback on the concert stage. My theory is that Cirque had something to do with that. Do you agree?

AC: Good theory! Hip-hop also contributed to putting more acrobatics into our world as well.

DSH: In your bio you mention your attention to spatial design in the show. I noticed that completely. I love the space and time allowed for each act. The clown walking upside down on a tight rope holding the candelabras is such a moment. (People, you have to see it to believe it.)There is almost a kind of breathing room for our amazement. Would you say that is built into the show?

AC: Yes, Daniele really works with the human element. For him that breathing space is all about life. There are three levels of space, the earth, the middle earth, and the heavens and they are all important.

DSH: I loved the surprising rhythms in the teeterboard vignette. It felt like a street scene even though the performers were doing amazing things.

AC: Exactly. Daniele loves to have the performers singing to get that authentic street feel, almost like West Side Story. As for the wonderful rhythms, we have the composers to thank, Maria Bonzanigo and Philippe Leduc.

DSH: Do you see yourself choreographing a new show some day?

AC: I did once or twice. It’s so funny. I didn’t like the person I became. I can be a great assistant; I have good ideas because I love movement.

DSH: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

AC: It’s all challenging. Corteo is one of the most technical touring shows that we have. We have had some major technical work and always need to make sure the fluidity is working. We added a lot of the show and have done a considerable amount of tweaking to get to where we are today. It’s got to grow with performance, yet I never want to lose sight of that incredible humanity in the show.

DSH: Why should we come see Corteo?
AC: Well, it’s a Cirque show for one thing. Yet, it’s different, it’s so theatrical. It touches you in a unique way.

DSH: I agree. Thanks for visiting; we hope the entire Cirque family enjoys their stay in Houston. Come back!

Corteo continues through April 29th under the blue and yellow Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) at Sam Houston Race Park in Northwest Houston. Visit http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/ or call 800-678-5440.


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