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Diving Into the Void: A Lesson from Cirque Du Soleil


Early last month I was in Las Vegas and had the chance to see a Cirque Du Soleil show. I chose to see KA– again. If you missed my first post about this amazing show, you can check it out here.

This time when I saw it, I was moving in this new direction of Escaping Mediocrity so I watched it with a fresh lens. It was as amazing and moving as I remembered it to be. So much so that I bought KA Extreme which chronicles how this amazing production developed.

For those of you who aren’t as rabid as I am about Cirque Du Soleil, I’d like to share the fact that this company is often cited in business articles and books (Blue Ocean Strategy is just one that comes to mind) because they redefined the whole concept of “Circus” and they embrace creativity and innovation as business strategies. 

Up until they hit the scene, conventional thinking was that a successful circus had to have three rings, animal acts and be targeted to children. If it didn’t look like that, then it wasn’t a “circus” and would not succeed. (Oh and you couldn’t charge more than, say, $35 a ticket and getting grownups to come was a huge marketing challenge.)

Then this band of street performers from Canada hit the scene and turned the definition of “circus” upside down. Cirque Du Soleil is sophisticated, high energy, targeted to grownups and charges premium dollar for tickets. Oh – and there are no animal acts or “rings” of any kind. Cirque Du Soleil could be THE poster child company for Escaping Mediocrity (hmm…maybe I’ll ask them about that….).

Here’s the thing I love most about them though: they NEVER stop pushing the boundaries of their creativity.  With KA – they broke the mold that THEY created. First, KA is a story – like a ballet or an opera. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. None of the other Cirque shows have that. Second, and to me most important, they created this moving stage that actually becomes many characters in the show. Looking at those words – I simply am not doing justice to the concept.

The stage pivots 365 degrees in all directions (I think) and weighs more than a 747 at takeoff. It transforms into a ship, a seashore, a mountain – and in one of my favorite sequences – a vertical chessboard.

Here’s the thing that made me catch my breathe over and over again: the performers are almost always at risk of falling off of the platform. Sometimes they even have to fall off on purpose in a freefall and you don’t see them land. “They perform on the edge of the void” as Robert LePage, KA Creator and Director says – and it is a l-o-n-g way down (up to 100 feet – yikes!) to the net below.

In the KA Extreme video, I got to watch the perfomers go throught the emotional process of learning how to overcome their fears and master both performing on the edge of a void AND making a complete freefall. And just in case you think it was easy for those amazing artists, it was not.

LePage says “We ask our performers to find the courage to confront the void”.

As if that quote isn’t enough to chew on, Lepage closes KA Extreme with this:

“I feel that my life is bristling with opportunities or invitations to dive into the void…I don’t mean emptiness…I mean the void in terms of taking risks.  The ambitiousness of this Cirque Du Soleil show is a very clear invitation to dive into the void.”

And the result of learning to “confront the void” and to take risks is a Cirque Du Soleil show that is so beautiful, so touching, so astonishing and so unlike any other that it leaves everyone I know speechless (and trust me – my friends are rarely at a loss for words about ANYTHING.)

Here’s what I learned: If I am committed to escaping mediocrity,  I have to be willing to freefall into the void and to take HUGE risks. IF I can manage that, IF I can screw up my courage and let go – I just might create something magnificent.

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