Emmanuel Cyr: the surreal wonder of Cirque du Soleil's Luzia and the passion to create
by Drew Rowsome
"It's a totally surreal scene with all those animal manifestations," says puppeteer Emmanuel Cyr of his armadillo role in Cirque du Soleil's Luzia. That particular scene, "Adagio," features an acrobatic tango performed in a cantina full of beautifully bizarre creatures. "We work on where we move and interact with the artists," says Cyr. "That's always the challenge with a circus, to not steal the focus of the act. We don't want to upstage, we want the balance." Does he ever want to step forward and hog the spotlight? "Yes. For sure." He pauses. "But no."
Cyr does gets a good share of centrestage and is almost constantly invisibly visible throughout. "I do the front legs of the jaguar and the front legs of the horse," he says. "And the long cactus." The trio of cacti appear throughout Luzia and even do some of the clean-up post-downpour. "They had already written all the stories and the design of the puppets were already done by the concepteur and the director when we arrived. They changed the storyboards because in what they wrote the cactuses were only in one number. But after what they saw they said, 'Let's try to put them in places where they work.' They were really open to the idea of what we could do. It was a pretty intense six months of creation."
But sometimes surreal is not the intention. "We watched a lot of film to see how a jaguar moves in nature," says Cyr. "We researched with the puppets to see the possibilities of what they could do. Then we looked at the storyboards to see what we could do with the interactions with the strap artist. As you can imagine the posture is not normal to create a jaguar who looks like a real one. We tried many, many things, going in and out of the reality of a jaguar. The designer decided the direction, and it was more realistic. From inside the puppet, I move my arm in a way that makes the sides larger and smaller to make it look like he's breathing. We really worked on that."
Cyr was not always a puppeteer, he has many talents. "I started performing as a juggler, it was a hobby when I was a teenager. People called me to start performing and that's how I joined the circus. For 10 years I did shows in the summer and trained in the winter. I did many, many shows." He also has a background in social work and works with Cirque's social circus training program - "I was a trainer of trainers, training the instructors. I did that for the last five years." - including stints working with children and artists in Kativik. "I like the cold and the hot," he says, "So I liked being in the north."
Pre-Luzia, he also managed to acquire a BFA in dance from Concordia University and choreography proved to be an adaptation of his first love sculpture, sculpting with bodies in space rather than clay or stone. He was involved in the creation of Carnaval Carmognole, an immersive collectively created festival of new circus that included his lavish and lurid creation Les Erotisseries (The Temple of Eros).
Luzia's tagline is "A Waking Dream of Mexico and Cyr says that "Lots of people are from Latin America and Mexico to add the taste of Mexico. I've been to Mexico many, many times - my cousin has a house there. It's a really nice connection. Mexico is really interesting. There are so many different climates and different cultures. That's why in the show we're trying to express tableaus like the bar scene where there is a lot of diversity." Diverse to the point where there are dancing cockroaches, alligators and one stellar armadillo.
Cyr slides easily between his animal characters, fauna and even a ribald fiesta-goer. "We have a lot of quick changes our team of puppeteers,"he says. "But we are a team of three, Monica Varela Couto, Gerardo Ballester Franzoni and myself, and we have a team of two backstage to help with the costumes. So we don't get lost."
A circus life is spent on the road and Cyr is a little coy on how that impacts his love life. "So far I really like it, my first passion after circus is travelling," he says. "I'm from Montreal, so during the creation and the first performances, I lived in my apartment. Toronto is my first time away from home and I rented out my apartment. We have a pretty heavy schedule but we have some nights off and there is time after the show. Especially with the heat now in Toronto, it's nice to be awake at night."
According to Cry, the surreal world of Luzia contrasts with the hardworking social world offstage where improvement is always the goal. "There are so many different skills in the show and we help each other, we share. If I want to try something I can ask, there is really wonderful complicity between the artists to keep learning inside the touring. If someone gets a new trick, they put it in the act, so the acts are always getting better and better. The artists are super, super passionate about what they are doing so they keep training every day to make their acts better. Just because the show is finished and the audience is happy, we still have a passion to create."