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Cirque co-founder on rumor control

Harry Reid claims John McCain is hotheaded. Names for the opposite of that aren’t as colorful. Is anyone called a “cool head”? But Gilles Ste-Croix could be submitted as the dictionary definition of one.

He’s a co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, a ’60s hippie who gives off what hippies called “good vibes,” always congenial and smiling.

And that makes the former stilt-walker perfect for a very specific job. Whenever — and wherever — Cirque has a new show about to open, Ste-Croix is the guy who comes in to help the creators get to the finish line. “The last stretch, that’s when you see the real runner in a marathon,” he says.

A director can lose sight watching rehearsals every day for two or three years. “I come with a fresh eye,” he says. “As a neophyte spectator, I can say, ‘That moment will never work because there’s something missing there.’ I never put down what they do. I’m there to enhance and bring new, fresh ideas.”

After he and other Cirque officials watched a rehearsal of the new “Criss Angel — Believe,” they decided to postpone the gala premiere until Halloween. That creates an obvious publicity hook for a title that’s dark and mysterious, but also more time for previews in front of paying customers.

Earlier postponements, combined with Angel’s bad-boy image, give Ste-Croix lots of rumor-control work for this one.

The truth, he says, is “We are in much better shape than ‘Ka,’ much better shape than ‘Zumanity’ also.”

Though “Zumanity” didn’t have a star who dated celebrities, it was marked by more creative turmoil backstage. “I had to come back from vacation (to sort things out),” Ste-Croix says with a laugh. “In this case I didn’t take any chance. I didn’t go on vacation.”

Angel, he says, may have “previously made his reputation about him being spoiled brat. … But in our case working with him, he’s such a gentleman, such a smooth guy. He’s always positive.”

Ste-Croix doesn’t totally refute talk, based on early run-throughs, that “Believe” was dull and/or the illusions didn’t carry all the way through to the back rows.

“In the last stretch, that’s where the show becomes (complete). You have to have trust and you have to have a lot of confidence,” he says. “One day and it makes a big step. Two days, and it makes a bigger step.”

MGM Mirage officials saw the show on Labor Day weekend and again last week. “They could not believe how much it’s changed,” he says. “They said, ‘We understand what you have been trying to do for the past six months. Now we get it.’ “

Maybe it’s ironic that Cirque is trying to extend its brand in new directions, yet turns to one of its original voices at crunch time. “Of course, it’s far away from the stilt-walking and just being a circus show under a tent without animals,” Ste-Croix says. “We are bringing together now all kinds of projects and new products that have a new look.

“I can be replaced, but the only thing that will not replace me is the baggage of experience I have over 25 years. We can be guardians of that way of doing things, and we can as well bring forth new ideas.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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