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Cirque steps up to stilt-walking world record

Troupe celebrates 25 years with a return to its stilt-walking roots

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Cirque du Soleil performers attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most people to simultaneously walk on stilts in celebration of the troupe’s 25th anniversary.
Photo: Erik Kabik/Retna/www.erikkabikphoto.com

A cake and a few balloons is how many companies celebrate a landmark event. But Cirque du Soleil's employees saw its silver anniversary as a chance to create a spectacular scene — and even set an acrobatic world record.

A host of 256 Cirque du Soleil staffers from six different Las Vegas shows came together for one mission today: To break the Guinness world record for the most people simultaneously walking on stilts.

The crowd of Cirque du Soleil staffers, crew members and performers gathered in front of the Bellagio this afternoon to join fellow Cirque workers in cities around the world to regain the stilt-walking record, which the company set in 2004.

Perched high on her stilts, Director of Creation Carmen Ruest spoke down to the mass of Cirque employees before the record-breaking event.

Cirque Stilt-Walking

“At Cirque, our mission is the same today as it was 25 years ago: To invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotion of people around the world,” Ruest said.

25 Years and Still Stilting...

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Cirque’s first performance in 1984 in Gaspe, Canada, as part of the 450th anniversary celebration of the discovery of Canada.

Cirque has grown from its 20 original street performers to a staff of 4,000 from 40 different countries. Today, the company presents 19 different shows, including Las Vegas’ six resident shows.

Mayor Oscar Goodman proclaimed June 16 “Cirque du Soleil Day” in honor of the troupes' anniversary and even renamed the section of Las Vegas Boulevard in front of the Bellagio Cirque du Soleil for the day.

Performers adorning elaborate costumes from their resident shows, along with staffers in plain clothing, walked the 328.08 feet (100 meters) across the Bellagio sidewalk — some more steadily than others — to achieve their goal.

The group of Las Vegas Cirque staffers were part of 1,926 employees worldwide who walked on stilts simultaneously. Employees in Orlando, Fla.; New York, N.Y.; Fortaleza, Brazil; Lisbon, Portugal; Macau, China; Montreal, Canada; Nagoya and Tokyo, Japan, were all synchonized to all walked their walk at 1 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

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Cirque du Soleil

Cirque last set the world record for the most people simultaneously walking on stilts with 544 people in 2004 in Montreal for its 20th anniversary. A team of 625 in Brantford, Ontario, currently has the title.

Stilt walking goes back to Cirque’s origins and has come to symbolize the circus troupe’s performances. Gilles Ste-Croix, a small theater owner, walked 56 miles on stilts in 1980 to convince the Quebec government to offer him a grant for a stilt-walking troupe. The non-stop stilt walk took him 22 hours. The troupe later grew to 20 in 1984 and became Cirque du Soleil under founder Guy Laliberte.

Ruest became part of that original stilt troupe in the early 1980s when she became Ste-Croix’s stilt-walking partner. Now in her mid-50s, Ruest can still walk tall on her nine-feet-long stilts.

“I’m happy I have the health to do it. It means a lot to me to see all these people here today,” Ruest said. “It means they are feeling in the family and want to share it together and that’s important.”

With the mix of hundreds of crew and cast members, spouses supporting from the sidelines and generations of performers present during the stilt walk, it’s obvious that the 4,000 Cirque staffers worldwide have formed much more than a circus troupe.

“During the last 25 years, we have become a big family,” Ruest said. Creating touches emotions and emotions touch relationships. It’s a lot of hard work and you need people who support each other.”

As for what’s next for Cirque after 25 years, to start the company will be adding a new resident show in Las Vegas. The music of Elvis Presley will take the stage at ARIA in December 2009 as Cirque’s latest creation. After 25 years, Cirque is still daring to dream.

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