David Girard, Acrobat – CirQle of Life
Authors note: During the summer of 2015 I met David Girard while he was performing in the Cirque du Soleil show Le Monde Est Fou in Trois-Rivières. He performed in several acts including Trampowall (trampoline wall) and air track but that does not begin to tell of the talents of this incredible performer. He is a world class gymnast in many disciplines and has transferred those skills into the circus arts. Now a Cirque du Soleil veteran, having worked for shows like Zaia in Macau and La Nouba in Florida, He has now moved into developing an act on his personally designed apparatus cirQle (think of a human-sized hamster wheel.) David is an inspiring person relentlessly pushing what is possible for himself but also in the world of circus arts. This is his story… in his own words.
I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal. I was a very energetic kid. I would probably be put on Ritalin if I grew up in today’s generation, but my energy was used in constructive ways. I had friends in my neighborhood and we were always making up games and being creative outside. I was always climbing trees and on top of my roof. I was like a little monkey.
My parents realized that I needed to do something with that energy… I never liked team sports very much, so I started doing gymnastics when I was 8 years old… I didn’t like it much at first… but my parents told me to stick it out and finish the class. My parents have been supportive my entire life but they always told me that if you start something you better finish it. Soon though, I started getting better… I started being able to do flips and that was all very exciting to me. I did three events in competition: trampoline, tumbling and double mini (trampoline.) I was learning something every week. My progression was very fast and that progression became my fuel… I realized that from then on, gymnastics was a part of my life.
My parents took me to go see Saltimbanco back in 1992. Growing up in Montreal, Cirque du Soleil always had such a big presence. Cirque du Soleil was always such a big thing with the Chapiteau and those beautiful nights. There were all these elite performers that were in the show. At the time I had just started going to gymnastics, but I remember thinking how cool it was and I hope one day I can join Cirque du Soleil.
I’ve always done really well under stress in competition but even more so in theatrical performance. Even the people around me were saying that if anyone from my group was going to make it into Cirque du Soleil, that it would be me. I always liked putting on shows and being in front of an audience… For me it was clear. This is what I wanted to do…
My last year of competing, Cirque du Soleil approached me about doing a personal audition…In May of 2007, I did my audition for Cirque du Soleil but I still wanted to compete in the senior world championships in Canada, which were in October/November. In June Cirque offered me a role in Zaia (a show based in Macau). The deal was that as soon as the competition was over I would get on a plane and fly out to start working with the creation team in Montreal. In August, everything changed. I injured my right ankle and this was two weeks before the Canada Cup, which is the last qualifier for the world championships. That time was really hard on me. That really knocked me down… I got a call from team Canada and they said ‘With your past results we will still allow you on the team’, so, I went back to work and trained super hard and then one week before world championships my other ankle went out.
I had to give up the dream of the world championships and my status with Cirque du Soleil was suddenly on thin ice.
They were like ‘We’ve already waited for you a few months and now with the injury, it might take too long to get healthy again.’ Fortunately, they gave me until the end of the year to get healthy and if I passed some tests to my ankle, I could join the cast but if I wasn’t healthy, they were going to cancel my contract. At the time, it was devastating. There goes 17 years of gymnastics training down the tube… I did all the physical therapy, ice baths, homeopathy, IV injections… I was finally able to get healthy and I was able to join the Zaia cast in January. Those few months definitely gave me a more resilient character.
Versatility is very important to me. A lot of skills have carried over like I learned to dive because there were skills that were similar to double mini (trampoline.) Tumbling skills were very helpful in learning power track. Trampoline helped me learn Trampo-wall. Usually, people can tumble on the ground or they can do trampoline. It is rare when a performer can do both. That really helped me. If something interests me I just go for it. I’ve always been a self-learner. I guess I’m a little old school. I don’t like to use a lounge (safety belt) when I am trying something new
I think we need to bring circus arts to another level. With more creativity, more can be accomplished. Not everyone needs to invent something but I do think that maybe people should try something that nobody has ever tried before on their own apparatus.
I do think we can bring it to another level but I feel we’ve accomplished so much in the last few years. It’s going on the right path especially that it’s getting more and more involved with theatre, dancing, multimedia and other forms of arts. I also think that people should try to create as much as they can their own ‘circus vocabulary’ on their discipline/apparatus whether it’s a new contraption or not. We should try at least to give or create something unique even if it’s only one skill in the whole act.
Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg
The idea for “cirQle” was an idea I came up with in a liquor store in Ontario. They do things a little differently there. They take your alcohol and roll it on a conveyor belt made out of a bunch of metal cylinders stacked together like a horizontal ladder. I thought it would be cool if they had a wheel on top that you could walk inside and it wouldn’t move. I started drawing sketches of it in my classes at University. After Zaia, I met someone that was selling a German wheel and I bought it. I had a friend that was a very good welder and I asked him for help. Together we built the first prototype in 2011 but it still wasn’t quite ready… I started applying for grants and finally got one in 2014. I had to respect the schedule that they gave me because I needed to do a presentation with the apparatus at the end.
It provided a great kick in the ass for me which worked great for me. There have been many setbacks, but I recently performed my act at La Soirée in London. It was the first time that I had performed it live in front of an audience for a reputable company. If you would have told me back at that liquor store, almost than 15 years ago, that I would develop this apparatus, build it, train on it, and have enough material to do an act, I wouldn’t have believed you. That is all I ever wanted to achieve, the rest is just gravy.
Authors note: At the time of this interview, David was traveling around Europe performing with smaller circus companies and corporate events on his cirQle. He hopes to one day have a motivational talk focusing on building self-confidence and bringing more awareness to bullying in high schools around Canada.
It’s going to be about how it’s not about how you fall down it’s about how you get back up. I will use cirQle as an example of this. I have a blooper reel that I will show and then do a live demonstration at the end. It’s another project that I might not be ready for but I am going for it anyway. I got knocked down a lot in life but it’s all about getting back up and really trusting yourself.”
Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg