Globetrotter: Sylvie Galarneau of Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil's senior artistic director travels with up to 60 performers - and their inevitable creative differences.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

How often do you travel?

I'm away from my home in Montreal for at least two weeks a month. I alternate with another director across three shows. We work like a relay race.

Across how many continents?

A show travels between six to eight cities a year, across the same continent. In 2011 we'll have been across Asia, America and Europe, but that's rare.

Do you travel alone?

Touring is like an island that moves. I don't tour with the cast, I prefer to travel alone. Half the cast of Dralion was Chinese and we carried a Chinese chef. The spicy smells meant I couldn't go into the kitchen or I'd start choking. I'm also a vegan.

Artistic differences?

We have up to 60 performers on each show from all nationalities. Sometimes it can be intense. An argument once broke out between a performer from New York and one from the Ivory Coast, ending with the American acrobat advising the African to talk to her lawyer. It had the same effect as a slap in the face.

Favourite city?

Lisbon. It's the best-kept secret in Europe. The food is great, the people are very welcoming and the city is beautiful, thanks to its history and culture.

Hardest part of the job?

I've dealt with all sorts, including alcohol and drug problems. Injuries are always tough. A performer once broke his back in two places, ending his career. His wife was also an acrobat on the show and they'd been with us for a long time. It was hard on the cast to lose them.

Worst experience?

I feel very close to the artists. A while back, a Russian acrobat's visa expired part-way through our European tour. He had to return to his own country with his family for three months while they applied for a new one. The family was so upset, they turned against me.

How do you cope with jet lag?

After 20 years with Cirque du Soleil I still haven't found a cure. When I recently returned to Canada from Japan it took me two weeks to recover. Exercise, eating well and acupuncture are essential. The needles are especially helpful.

- Cirque du Soleil's Totem is in London this January. 

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