Acro on Ice: Cirque du Soleil’s Robert Tannion talks about Crystal

Cirque du Soleil is known for pushing creative and physical limits. In Crystal, the Canadian company’s first ice show, Cirque expands those boundaries with both acrobats and skaters. Artistic Director, Robert Tannion, talks about his experience and work with the touring production.

[Cirque du Soleil at the Wells Fargo Center] June 24-26, 2022;

Debra Danese: What was your introduction to the circus arts? 

Robert Tannion: I first saw Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbanco around 1995 in Europe and was blown away. However, I did not seriously connect with the circus until 2003 when I was working in dance/physical theatre as associate choreographer on Lord of the Rings. My eye for detail and choreography proved invaluable when I made the transition into circus. My experience in physical theatre allows me to bridge the gap between circus technique and theatrical context. Although I still love dance and physical theatre, the circus brings people together in a way that excites me every time we perform.

DD: How did you become involved with Cirque Du Soleil? 

RT: I had always wanted to work with Cirque du Soleil and had I uploaded my CV serval times into “the system;” applying for either Artistic Director or Artistic Associate roles. As time went by, I got more and more experience as an Artistic Director and manager outside of Cirque du Soleil. I eventually landed my dream role as Artistic Director in 2019. Like all good things, it was only a matter of good timing! 

DD: What do you enjoy most about your role as Artistic Director?

RT: I am a people person. I absolutely love the incredible people that I work with. As Artistic Director, my role is really being the glue between multiple departments – artistic, technical, and tour management. I love that it fully engages the breadth of my skillset, both artistic and managerial, and allows me to work in both a public facing and behind the scenes capacity. I enjoy bringing out the very best in people – to inspire and to guide- whilst being conscious that the rigors of touring life adds another level of complexity in doing so.

DD: How do you maintain the artistic integrity once the show goes on tour?

RT: We always have the audience experience top of mind and it is important to deliver the absolute best experience of the show, within the limitations or modifications that we have that day. 

It’s key that we all work together to deliver the best experience possible because high quality shows, with outstanding production value, are what Cirque du Soleil has made its name on. There is a lot of forward planning that we do behind the scenes to ensure that all acts are well rehearsed and that we have the depth within the cast to cover any last-minute changes. We always make sure to have a Plan B -and C, and D, and E- like back up acts, or show modifications, to ensure that we can deliver the highest quality show – always! 

DD: How are you able to communicate with such a diverse international cast?

RT: We speak 17 languages on tour including French, Spanish, German, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish and Dutch. Our common language on tour is English. My primary language is in English, but I’m also fluent in Spanish, so I translate for our Spanish speaking artists on tour. Google Translate is something I also use along on tour to translate important information into other languages that I’m not so fluent in like Mongolian or Russian. 

Because circus is a physical artform, it shouldn’t be surprising how valuable using our bodies to communicate can be!

DD: What is your favorite act in the show?

RT: That is a really hard question! I have so many favorite acts in the show and all for different reasons.

Tempête, CRYSTAL’s opening act, is one of the most exciting show openers I’ve ever seen; Juggling, for its incredible speed and mind-blowing precision; Hockey/Ramps, for the adrenaline-pumping stunts, projections and music; Pendular poles, for the pure adrenaline rush of seeing artists being launched off giant poles five meters into the air without any safety lines…on ice!

Chair balancing is outstanding, not only for the madness of someone balancing on six chairs that are on top of a table over ice, but also for the incredibly intricate choreography that 20 artists do on ice while it’s happening.

Also, Hand to Trapeze for its stunning mix of duo trapeze, pairs skating, and hand-to-hand acrobatics. The music and visuals are so powerful, I connect with this act on an emotional level every time.


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