By Melissa Di Nardo
Cirque du Soleil motivated Calin Stevenson to run away and join the circus – more specifically, the National Circus School.
This year the school is celebrating its 30th anniversary. It was founded in 1981 and since then it has changed locations three times. Cirque du Soleil was founded in 1984, three years after the school was opened.
Aerial silk artist, Stevenson, 21, moved from Pickering to Montreal to attend the school and is currently trying to join Cirque du Soleil.
“It’s everyone’s dream to be in Cirque du Soleil. It is what’s most known here in Canada,” said Stevenson.
Aerial silk performers climb a special suspended fabric from the ceiling and rely solely on skill, as there are no safety lines.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It really is challenging in a much different way than gymnastics,” said Stevenson.
Graduating students at NCS undergo a daily intense upper core exercise routine during their third year, before attending a specific two-hour discipline training geared towards each artist’s major.
“You need to be able to put a story together technically and have a movement that is all your own. No two artists look the same,” said Stevenson.
Originally, Stevenson was accepted into the school for acrobatics. However, Stevenson realized early on that this was not for him. He went through a discovery journey and fell in love with aerial silk.
“I didn’t know I had this dream when I started, but I look back at what I have accomplished and what I have done and I really couldn’t picture myself doing anything else,” said Stevenson after a session of aerial silk training with his artistic counselor.
“I have always been told that when I do things there is a gracefulness to it. So I really feel that tissue (aerial silk) incorporates all that. It gives me a really good way to show it, so that’s why I choose it.”
Laurence Cardin, the school’s PR representative, said the area where the school is located in Montreal is known as “city du cirque” because many circus companies are in close proximity.
NCS has programs starting from age nine all the way to post secondary courses.
“The school offers a different program to teach circus arts. Students interested in this final stage can become trained to become instructors for higher education programs or to start a recreational program in their neighborhoods,” said Cardin.
“The programs offered here are for kids who don’t see themselves in a regular high school, sitting on a chair for eight hours,” said Cardin.
“The high school program is designed for active children, who are passionate about sports and arts. It prepares them for the college program.”
Cardin said the school isn’t that known outside of Quebec because circus is new to Canada.
“It is a little bit different in Quebec because we have the circus companies, but then in the rest of Canada they don’t have a lot of companies. Well actually there are almost none,” said Cardin.
Students in the school’s college program work with coaches and artistic counsellors for three years. Which can explain why the placement rate is very high after graduating from NCS.
“We are talking about more than 95 per cent (of the students get a job) within a couple of months. It is really an art that is in high demand,” explained Cardin.
“Cirque du Soleil employs about 1,500 artists; and then we have Cirque Éloize’s and The Seven Fingers (Les 7 Doigts de la Main), they recruit a lot of our graduating students,” said Cardin as she walked down a hallway filled with photos of previous shows put together by previous graduating classes.
Karla Sage, Quinte’s Regional power tumbling coach, said “There needs to be more promotion in cities that these are high level athletes.”
Sage is the only coach in the Quinte region for tumbling and has been coaching for ten years. Currently she is training an athlete who is applying to get an audition for Cirque du Soleil.
“The circus is a great opportunity for athletes to travel and see the world and to try different things before they settle down,” said Sage.
“A lot of people don’t know that going into the circus consists of acrobatics and all of hard training that goes behind the scenes. Most people relate the circus to clowns, animals and that kind of thing,” said Sage.