CIRQUE DU SOLEIL 'QUIDAM'
When: Wednesday, April 4-Sunday, April 8Where: Thompson-Boling Arena
Info and tickets: www.cirquedusoleil.com/quidam or 865-656-4444
A gymnast, tennis player, musician and actor who took up classical ballet his senior year in high school, Mark Ward never dreamed he'd one day have a chance to combine all of his diverse talents in a single forum.
But that's exactly what happened in 1993 when, after his eighth year of classical ballet, while performing with the Ballet of Chicago, Ward got a call to audition for the cast of Mystere, a new Las Vegas-based production by the Canadian performance troupe Cirque du Soleil. The Denton, Texas, native was tapped as a founding member of the cast and went on to five years in a role that challenged his skills as an athlete, acrobat and performer.
"It was great, because I had never really stopped being a gymnast," says Ward, now the longtime star of another Cirque show, Quidam. Quidam will play Knoxville April 4 through 8 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"My acrobatics helped me excel as a dancer that much faster, because I already had more control over my body than other dancers," he continues. "And now, suddenly, I get to do all the things I trained to do over the years in one company. And working with artists like this from all over the world, in an atmosphere like this, from so many countries, that's something that rarely happens."
Founded in 1984 by Canadian street performers, Cirque du Soleil puts on a host of multi-media productions, fanciful melanges of musical theater, dance, acrobatics, and carnival showmanship. "We take all of those elements and put them into a show," Ward says. "You're not just coming to see acrobats. It's acting; it's singing; everything, all in one polished gem. We train constantly so we can do those things, but it's for the end resulting of molding it all into a show."
Not all of the Cirque performers have to be contortionists or world-class tumblers, he says. "It depends on what they're hiring you for. They may hire you for your voice or your acting. When they hire someone, they're looking for a specific thing. They have different acts in one show, so they know what they're looking for."
Still, a multi-talented performer like Ward certainly has a leg up — pun intended — on other would-be performers. "If they have an audition and they're looking for someone to perform on the ropes, they need someone who either already has those capabilities or who can be trained that way. So you have to show them what you've got. You have to be prepared.
"That's what's great about Cirque du Soleil, is that they will teach you to do other things. I ended up doing contortionism, ball walking, trampoline, many things. I came with some skills, but I leave with many. So they've trained me very well."
For the past 13 years, Ward, 46, has been the principal in the touring production of Quidam, the mu
sical story of a young girl in a loveless home who escapes to an imaginary world where she learns to "free her soul."
Ward plays John, the Ringmaster, her — and the audience's — guide in the "other world." Ward says the role challenges on many levels. "I'm the link to the public; I can actually touch the people," he says. "I have four acts of my own, and some of them require props. Being the principal character, I don't have to do double back-flips now. But I'm running all the time, and my brain always has to be there. I'm doing the entire show, and I do have to do some flips throughout.
"What I like is that it's constantly changing. Every city I go to, what one group of people might find funny, it might not work with another. I have to always be willing to change my approach to connect with the people. I think that's kept me fresh."
Fresh enough that after 19 years with Cirque du Soleil, Ward says he plans to forge ahead for at least another six years before he assesses his career options further.
"I'd like to do 25 years," Ward says. "Then maybe I'll see if I want to do another show, or if I want to retire, or be a talent scout, or work somewhere else in the company. There are other opportunities in the company for me, but right now my goal is to go year by year and see how I feel. Right now, I'm really enjoying performing."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!