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Marjon Van Grunsven: Artistic Director Of Cirque du Soleil On Art and Queer Love

Marjon shares how the LGBTIQ community influences her visionary artistic work for the circus.


Alexander Pestov

An artist-at-heart and a native to the Netherlands, Marjon Van Grunsven joined the world-famous Cirque du Soleil in April 2007. She worked as the Artistic Director on Cirque du Soleil’s first arena show, Delirium, until it closed in 2008. After Delirium, Marjon went on to act as the Artistic Director for OVO and QUIDAM.

Marjon has traveled the globe working as a professional dancer, teacher, choreographer, producer, and a certified pilates instructor. Now, she is preparing to put OVO back on the stage.

Marjon shares with LOTL her experiences working with Cirque du Soleil, how being a part of the LGBTIQ community influences her work, and how she first gained an interest in theatre and performance.

You have such extensive experience in performing arts. What is your earliest memory in dance and/or theatre? When was the moment you realised that it was for you? 

My first memory was a performance my sister danced in when she was 8 years old. I was 6 years old at the time. After the performance, all family of the performers received a behind-the-scenes tour in the theatre. The moment we stepped foot on the stage, I was mesmerised by everything I saw and sensed. It was like I entered a space full of history and full of future possibilities. I remember hiding from the group until they left the stage and then I entered the space again all by myself and laid down on my back to look up at the ceiling, which was covered with sets and ropes and lights. I don’t remember how long I laid there, but I do remember the visions I had. The innate sense of feeling at home happened right then and there, and I knew theatre would be my life, in no matter what capacity.

From your first Cirque du Soleil show to now, what would you say is the most significant thing that you have learnt?

That anything is possible, as long as you believe in your dreams. This goes for ALL individuals that work on our shows; artists, crew, staff, and creators. I guess it goes for all artists in the world. It is incredible what we can do, what we can achieve, and how much we can touch the hearts of thousands of spectators every day, as well as those of ourselves. With that, we can hopefully make a tiny little difference in this world and inject it with the love and passion for what we do.

What does it take to become a Cirque du Soleil artist/performer?

Many years of commitment, devotion, incredibly hard work, and talent.

Could you briefly describe your role as Artistic Director? What do you draw inspiration from when you are acting in this role?

My role is to oversee the artists and the artistic team (supporting staff; stage management, performance medicine, coaching, wardrobe) and manage their daily training, rehearsals and performance. To protect the quality and integrity of the show and make it evolve.

My role also functions as a link between our headquarters in Montreal and the tour as well as the other departments on tour (technical and tour management).

I am inspired by my artists and I go and see as many performances outside of Quidam as I can and listen to as much music as I can. On my breaks, I unplug…meditate, dance, choreograph, rest. Nature rejuvenates me.

Do you think being part of the LGBTIQ community has influenced your creativity or professional world in any way?

There is an art in ‘love making’. Being loved, feeling love for others ALWAYS inspires and influences me. Loving people in all their different ways of being is a gift that I feel we all have been given. Our community is open and accepting.  Yes… being granted this gift to be open to all, absolutely has influenced me and I wish it for every human being. We should never feel like we are placed in a ‘ box’, like we are labeled with a title… We are all coming from the same source and will all end there, like ONE.

​Quidam is one of the company’s most loved and classic shows. Tell us what this story explores and how the actors portray these themes/emotions. What makes it different from the other shows that you have worked on with Cirque du Soleil?

Franco Dragone (creator of Quidam) said back in 1996, when he was exploring the story of QUIDAM; ‘A QUIDAM‘ is what each of us is to someone else. In other words, we are strangers to someone, to many people – to at least 5,999,000,000 people. We are all QUIDAMS (Quidam is Latin for ‘stranger passerby'). There are QUIDAMS all over the place. It’s what we are to other people who don’t know us. For me, Quidam is the silent majority, people who we no longer have time to look at. We are clobbered with information; never before in the history of the world has there been so much information. At the same time, people are probably just as lost as they were in the middle ages. For me, QUIDAM pays homage to the joys and suffering of everyday people, everyone who does not appear in ads or television clips or in the public spotlight. These are gawkers, people who wander all over the place.’

Quidam portrays real human emotions; true events, if you will, when you allow your mind and heart to be open. This isn’t a fantasy, although we usually say that Quidam shows you the imaginary world of a young girl, who feels disconnected from her parents. Through this imaginary world, she seeks to reconnect to her parents as well as herself. But really, if you look at the show, you can see real joy, real pleasure, real pain and real sorrow. War, crime, life, death, love... None of our other shows have been able to capture and channel the vast truth of our everyday life challenges on this planet.

The acrobatics are stunning; ground breaking still to this day.

The music is incredible and makes your spirit fly.

The costumes and lights versus the simplicity of the set design make it all so powerful.

What is your favourite thing about being part of the Cirque du Soleil community?

It is my life, it is my home, and it is my food, my heartbeat, my absolute passion! These people are the most incredible people I have worked with in my career; their devotion and commitment, their open mindedness, their willingness to form a new family together on tour.  Most important however is the incredible creativity, artistry and integrity that the community holds as standard. I feel honoured and proud to be a part of that.

After the tour ends, what’s next for you? 

I am going to put 'our OVO insects' back on stage, but this time in Arena format. I am the Artistic Director for Cirque du Soleil’s show OVO as well. The show closed its Big Top run in June 2015 in Japan after 6.5 years of success. Now we have re-written the script and are transforming the show into a beautiful new Arena format, to open in April 2016 in North America.

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