Xander Taylor: It Started With Xena, Warrior Princess
Author’s Note: In the entertainment industry, there are so many different paths you can take. From working on cruise ships to classical theatre, to performing with Cirque du Soleil, and Xander Taylor has done it all. It took Xander longer than most to find his way into the circus but that is where he has found his true calling. Blending his diverse athletic background with his acting background, he found a perfect balance with the circus. He has trained in many aerial arts but has become known for his work in the Duo Trapeze with his acrobatic partner, Mélanie Dupuis. They recently performed in the smash hit Broadway show Paramour by Cirque du Soleil. With his diverse background and a full steam of momentum, it’s easy to see big things in the future for Xander. This is his story, in his own words…
My hero growing up was Xena, Warrior Princess. That show and a lot of shows at that time were doing a lot of stunts and acrobatics… When I look back at some of my choices in life, it kind of reflects back to that. Xena was doing endless amounts of flips and fighting at the same time. She was this really fiery personality that could totally take care of herself.
In elementary school, I had issues with bullying and so I started Taekwondo. Martial Arts teaches you to only use these practices to defend yourself and that you shouldn’t be using it to attack people. It was a good moral compass to know exactly when to be utilizing it. At 11 years old I became a black belt. Once I got up to black belt I was like, ok I have had enough of this, it’s time to go on to gymnastics. I remember the master of the dojo came over to me right before I left and said ‘Do you have any idea what you are giving up? You’re 11 years old and you have your black belt! You could go to the Olympics if you wanted to!”
Martial Arts are framed in a way where you have a lot of respect for the master and anyone in a superior belt position to you. When I went to gymnastics that mentality was already there. My coaches were the master and they had my full respect and attention. I think that was one of my strengths because I certainly wasn’t a gifted gymnast. Having that discipline really allowed me to progress.
In middle school, I began diving. My mom became the president of the diving club that I was training at. That was really important for me to have that show of support. I ended up diving for 11 years. I competed at a senior national level and did international competitions as well. I was diving with a team and competing regularly from middle school throughout high school. I took only one year off, during my first year of university. I went into an acting program but it wasn’t for me so I changed my major and finished my degree in kinesiology and started diving again.
After university, I got a job on an aquatic show on the cruise line Royal Caribbean. I was working creation for a new theatre called the Aqua Theatre. There were so many different safety concerns in that show and I don’t know if Royal Caribbean was ready for that. We had a lot of close calls because the pool size was not very big relative to the height we were diving. I remember diving into the water sometimes and feeling the edge of the pool deck brushing past me. If I would have been a few more inches off my mark, it probably would have been game over. I broke a rib and my nose on two separate occasions. On my second contract, I became the aquatic captain and I expressed my concerns to the higher ups. It was a good way to see the world and to get show experience. I also met a lot of great people and made some lifelong friends. Some of those friends were doing aerial acrobatics on the ships and I got really interested in that through them.
After I finished my second 10-month contract with Royal Caribbean, I ended up in Toronto and started training at a circus school. The school offered classes for silks, hoop, static trapeze and hand balancing. I just threw myself into all of them to see what I would enjoy and to see what I might be good at. After six months of training, I auditioned for the National Circus School. Many people I knew were really equipped for the industry after going there.
After my audition, they asked me if I had any interest in Duo Trapeze. I jumped at the opportunity… I relocated to Montreal to start training right away.
When I got there I had no idea who my partner was. We didn’t know each other at all but right from the beginning it just worked really well. Mélanie Dupuis was still in high school at the time but she would train with me after school. She is nine years younger than I was, but we had a great working relationship. I think if it would have been anyone else in that high school program, it wouldn’t have worked.
August of 2016 we began working on the Cirque du Soleil show Paramour in New York City. I wanted to work for Cirque du Soleil at some point, but to be able to tick the Broadway performer box at the same time was really special. Performing in such a beautiful theater in front of sell-out crowds… It’s hard to beat that… I remember when I quit acting my mom was somewhat devastated. She was like ‘What am I going tell my friends? You are giving up acting to study Kinesiology! What the hell is that?’
When I got a part in a show that was performing on Broadway, it was a really big moment for her as well. Tourists would come expecting to see a Broadway show but a lot of people aren’t expecting to see the circus elements. It almost comes off as a shock to them… The most lasting memory for me was when I would go out for the final applause at the end of the act, it was overwhelming.
We had to cut off the applause every single night. The audience just wouldn’t stop. We would have to walk off the stage as the applause was still going on… That was really special.
While Paramour was a great experience to have under our belts so early in our career, we want to experience everything. Performing in Palazzo in Hamburg, for example, has been really cool because we went from this huge show with thousands of people, to a very intimate environment where I am almost kicking people in the face sometimes because they are so close to me. You get different things from different projects.
Later this year we are doing a new creation called SOHO in London and Paris. It will be an opportunity to do other things that we do in the circus arts besides Duo Trapeze like dance, acting, and other circus arts. I’m working on a new apparatus called Strapeze, which combines elements of straps and trapeze. That’s something for me that I really want to get a strong solo act for. It is really important as an artist to really question what it is that’s possible. I think it’s important to try new things… Through that exploration, there are just so many cool things to find. When you mess it up, it’s not a failure, it’s what you learn from.
I was always torn between two different worlds. Whether I was diving or acting, there was always something missing. Circus was a way of bringing everything I had been doing together into one art form. It was the first time I had finally connected the dots. With circus, I felt accepted right away. I felt like I had a unique identity as a circus artist. There is a strong support system there and it almost has to be there for it to function. It’s like a big family supporting each other and in some ways, it wouldn’t work without that support.
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