Limelight: Robert Tannion
Robert Tannion is artistic director of ‘Crystal’, Cirque du Soleil's first show to combine ice skating with circus, which recently toured Australia as part of a current world tour.
How hands-on is your role?
At Cirque du Soleil, the artistic director is the guardian of the show’s artistic concept and is ultimately responsible for ensuring that each and every show is performed and presented at the highest quality given the conditions of the day.
You have been with Cirque (based in Montreal) since 2019. How did you and the company survive the pandemic?
At the time, no one knew the impact or significance the pandemic would have on our industry or our lives. We were touring in the UK at the time and were initially told we would be off for a few weeks. Those few weeks turned into two years.
Although it was hard for everyone on tour – artists and support staff – in hindsight, the break was a blessing. It helped to reinforce what a lot of us consider to be our life’s purpose – entertaining the world one show at a time.
How many artists are employed by Cirque?
Cirque du Soleil employs more than 4000 people, including 1200 artists from 80 different nationalities. We have a casting department that works with 30 casting partners from around the world including Spain, Hungary, Japan and Brazil.
Because Cirque du Soleil is such a well-known international company and brand, we don’t have a “wait list” per se. Instead, we have a steady pipeline of artists sending in their audition tapes and meeting with our casting agents at events around the world.
You were artistic director of Circus Oz in Melbourne. How did that prepare you for your current role?
I worked at Circus Oz for just over three years and really value everything that afforded me in terms of experience and professional growth. Both companies have a deep love of contemporary circus and push the boundaries to engage a global audience. Both companies were founded at similar times (Circus Oz in 1978 and Cirque du Soleil in 1984), so it has been really interesting to be a part of and witness their evolution at similar points in time.
You were a dancer for seven years with DV8 in London, performing in many landmark works. How did you make the leap into circus?
Oddly I think that my time with DV8 gave me my initial exposure to circus during the creation of Enter Achilles. We all had to learn doubles corde lisse (rope), and this experience opened my eyes to contemporary circus.
My second real push into circus was being invited to work on a project called What If at Circomedia in Bristol, where I was a guest director/choreographer working with 11 circus groups over a two-week period.
Later, while I was working on the mega musical version of Lord of the Rings in Toronto, I got to work side by side with circus specialists in a musical theatre context and I met many artists from Cirque du Soleil. At the time, I had already co-founded a company in London with Liam Steel called Stan Won’t Dance, and we began using and working with elements of circus in our shows. Eventually I found that I was being drawn to working with circus, so in 2008, I conceived and directed my first large-scale circus show in Madrid and haven’t looked back since.
What was your training?
I was a late starter and only really started to take dance seriously when I was 17 years old. I had a strong sports and movement background and after experiencing an injury, a sports physio suggested that I strengthened my legs with some ballet classes. So I started going to a local dance school in Caboolture whilst prepping to start a degree in human movement. I decided to take dance as a second teaching elective and after a year, I was hooked – so much so that I transferred to a fulltime BA in Dance at Queensland University of Technology.
An achievement you are most proud of?
It’s hard to pick just one [but] being a father of four very incredible and very well-rounded children has to be my proudest overall life achievement by far.
This article first appeared in the July/August/September 2023 issue of Dance Australia. Did you miss it? Subscribe and never miss an issue! Take advantage of our special Christmas offer: only $22 for an annual subscription (four issues). Just go here.