Tips and advice from those who know
become artists. They take dance classes, they take theater, acting classes,
voice classes sometimes. So they have
a lot of things on top of the acrobatics
that are specific to the show.
A former gymnast and power tumbler, this Windsor,
Ontario, native is the Acrobatics Head Coach for
“Saltimbanco,” one of 17 Cirque du Soleil shows worldwide. A former Cirque cast member himself, Ocampo, 36,
recently sat down with IG Editor Dwight Normile and discussed, among other topics, how gymnasts can join
Cirque and what to expect when they get there.
How does a gymnast get involved with Cirque du Soleil? We’re
looking for gymnasts who have finished their careers and are ready to
move on to something new and different. Nowadays, there are so
many ways to get into Cirque du Soleil. There may be an audition in
major cities around the world … you might send in a video of yourself
doing gymnastics—you can upload it directly to cirquedusoleil.com.
France’s Isabelle Severino returned
to gymnastics after working in
Cirque, and her connection to the
crowd was noticeable. Is that
something most gymnasts lack?
I don’t want to stereotype, but that is something—the connection with
the audience—that with some people is natural. Having been in the circus for 15 years, and having gone to being a performer to a coach,
and especially nowadays, I am actually very impressed when I see,
more and more, gymnasts come in who already have this connection,
this ability to perform. But, yes, that is something that some people will
need to learn.
Is it difficult for gymnasts to perform daily? It’s a different kind of
performance from, let’s say, the training that they would do. Because,
in general, the training that people are doing as high level athletes is
very demanding. It would be considerably higher than the amount of
training that we do on a show. The difference comes in being able to
mentally prepare and perform your acrobatics with Cirque du Soleil.
So rather than training hours on end and performing your competition
maybe once a month, you’re doing that 10 times a week.
What specific things do they need to learn? In some ways, it’s
almost their confidence level in what they’re performing. And this is
something we try to teach the artists when they’re on stage. It doesn’t
matter if you’re doing a huge acrobatic element or just some simple
cue. As long as you’re confident about what you’re doing and portray
that to the audience, it’s going to be at a different level for them than
someone who is sort of unsure of themselves.
Do gymnasts often face burnout at Cirque? I wouldn’t necessarily
call it a burnout. What can happen, because you are doing the same
show, … is you want to work in other shows. An acrobat might say,
‘You know, I think I’ve done as much as I can do in this number, and
I’d like to try different things, acrobatically and artistically….’
we try to
But isn’t that also true in competitive gymnastics? It is, but it’s a little
bit different. I think with Cirque du
Soleil your audience is generally a lot
closer, so you really can connect with
people who are literally a few feet
Are injuries a major issue? Some of the acts look dangerous.
Obviously, all of the training that goes into that formation period in
Montreal is when the gymnasts are transitioning from what they do in
gymnastics to the number they’re going to be doing in Cirque du
Soleil. So, yeah, there is that period, especially when you’re new to
that number … there can be injuries. … The majority of our injuries
are smaller injuries. … The big injuries are very rare.
Cirque recruits from all disciplines
of gymnastics. Does that help fos-
ter a respect among them?
It definitely has for me. Coming from
Canada, where I’ve never even seen sports acrobatics before, and now
having worked on three different shows, I’ve had the opportunity to
work with people who come from sports that I didn’t necessarily see
during my competitive career. And I have a huge amount of respect for
people who are coming from these disciplines. It’s really amazing how
our sport … can have such a wide array of different disciplines.
The Cirque du Soleil shows are very professional and polished.
What should people understand about the process? Maybe the
transition period from being a high-level gymnast, or whatever sport
you’re coming from, is not always seamless. They go from their sport
usually [to] the training facility in Montreal, and they can train anywhere from three months to almost a year, if it’s a creation of a new
show. So there is quite a period where those athletes are learning to
What can a competitive gymnast learn from watching a Cirque du
Soleil show? When I saw Cirque du Soleil for the first time, I was still
competing. And having come from an acrobatic background, you’d
think that I’d understand the acrobatics. Yes, I did. But just like everyone else in the audience, I was sitting on the edge of my seat with my
mouth hanging open in awe of the performance. And I think that perhaps for people who are still competing, that idea of performing your
routines could definitely help as a competitor.