Cirque Du Soleil director Michel Laprise on the enduring queer appeal of the circus and working with Madonna
Cirque Du Soleil director Michel Laprise on the LGBTQ+ community’s love affair with the circus and how he got to know the real Madonna.
As Laprise prepares for the European debut of his critically acclaimed Cirque Du Soleil show, KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities, he’s in a reflective mood about the road that has led him here.
His career has been decorated with pinch-me moments, from directing Madonna’s award-winning 2012 MDNA tour, to revolutionising Cirque Du Soleil with his Emmy-winning virtual reality movie Kurios: Inside The Box.
Throughout it all he’s been committed to championing diversity – something he traces back to a pivotal moment in his youth.
He recalls standing on a street corner in Quebec City, where everybody was “white, francophone, middle class and Catholic”, at age 13.
From a distance he heard music and as he followed the sound he had his first encounter with Cirque Du Soleil, which began in the 80s as a troupe of street performers, and today defines the magic of circus for many across the world.
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“I was looking at people with a diversity of skin colours and bodies and I started to weep,” he recalls.
“To me, this was a message of hope. If so many different people have a right to exist, so can I.”
As Cirque Du Soleil has grown to international acclaim and adoration, it has captured the imaginations of the LGBTQ+ community with its fantastical productions and inclusive ethos.
For Laprise, Cirque’s resonance with the community makes complete sense. “Diversity is our strength and it is already embedded at Cirque. As a member of the community of course I resonate with the show. Everybody has a right to exist and Cirque proves it.”
KURIOS, the Cirque Du Soleil show Lapris wrote and directed, premiered in Montreal in 2014 and includes a purposeful nod to the queer community with a stunning rainbow sequence.
For Michel Laprise, the show, which is described as a 19th-century Victorian steampunk fantasy, reflects the values that have always driven Cirque Du Soleil – imagination, innovation and inclusion.
“The whole intention was to create a show that was very uplifting and very optimistic. It is a message that if you change your perspective on things, you will see that we are already living in paradise, you will see that things are moving forward,” he says.
Through the use of electricity, “magic” and stunning acrobatics, KURIOS aims to connect with the audience on an intimate level and transport them to a universe where “everything is possible”.
For Laprise, working with Cirque has certainly made the unimaginable a reality.
After joining the circus in 2000, in 2009 he was invited to direct the Eurovision opening ceremony in Russia, and in 2012 he became Madonna’s artistic director for her Super Bowl performance and her MDNA tour.
The first time Larpise met Madonna was in a recording studio in Times Square, after she flung open the door and told him to listen to her new song.
“She was holding a piece of paper and said ‘I would like to show you the song I’m working on’ and she was trembling,” he remembers.
“I remember thinking ‘oh wow if after 30 years she’s nervous to show something new, I want to work with her’ and she is really authentic.”
Madonna’s skill, hard work and determination reminds Laprise of the Cirque acrobats he works with every day – he says she is a dancer at heart, even more than she is a singer.
The pop icon handed over total artistic freedom to Laprise during her tour and continued to support him when his show opened in 2014.
“She came to see KURIOS with two of her kids,” he explains, “and instead of leaving at the end she went through to see the artists and took the time to say ‘bravo.'”
The upcoming Royal Albert Hall premiere of KURIOS is another milestone for Michel Laprise. And while his career continues to go from strength to strength, the secret to his success remains simple.
“We were born in the streets,” Michel Laprise says about Cirque, “and in the streets, you have to catch people’s attention with something original. You don’t have your resumé, you just have what we can do now. You have to give them a reason to stop.”
Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities opens at the Royal Albert Hall on 13 January, 2023. Tickets are on sale now at cirquedusoleil.com
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