Stilts a symbol for Cirque founders

Carmen Ruest laughs that the “Mystere” theater now seems familiar and almost cozy.

“It doesn’t make sense to say that,” she says. “Do you know how many theater troupes would dream to have half of this?” But she agrees. “I feel it, too.

“We’re losing perspective in this city of Las Vegas somehow.”

Ruest, one of Cirque du Soleil’s founders, spent time here recently to add perspective to the company’s 25th anniversary.

Cirque celebrated last Tuesday with a low-key publicity stunt that might be shrugged off by those who don’t know the history. More than 250 cast, crew and friends got up on stilts to walk 100 meters (328 feet) in front of Bellagio to attempt a Guinness world record.

It wasn’t known last week if the effort succeeded. But to Cirque, a record-book entry might be less important than the reminder of more humble days.

The stilts were symbolic. Ruest and other Cirque pioneers — including company head Guy Laliberte — were part of the Stilt-Walkers of Baie-Saint-Paul, one of the early steps from street theater to Cirque as we know it.

“We had so much fun being hippies,” she says. “At that time we were all living together — sharing apartments, sharing everything. Food, groceries, lovers.”

Cirque was inspired by the communal spirit of the ’60s, but Ruest finds it significant the company launched in 1984. “This is a special period,” she says, “after the hippies (but) transitioning to new wave. We were listening to Talking Heads and the Rolling Stones at the same time.”

The world was enraptured with The Police album “Synchronicity.” Ruest believes the title was a true description of “very strong creative things happening in many parts of the planet,” from the Apple Macintosh to Madonna writhing on the first MTV Music Awards.

The Cirque founders have seen the highs and lows of middle age; six shows on the Strip but the newest, “Criss Angel: Believe,” meeting a rocky reception.

The company is now at work on an Elvis-themed show for CityCenter; ironic for a singer who once met with Richard Nixon after offering his services to fight “the drug culture (and) the hippie elements.”

Ruest says Cirque will do right by Elvis. The guiding thought is, “If he were alive today, what kind of show would he want to do for himself?”

Elvis Presley would have to concede he could be in worse hands than those of the stilt-walkers who became the cool Ben & Jerry’s of Las Vegas corporations.

Ruest’s description of stilt-walking also fits her company: “You’re grounded but at the same time you don’t touch the ground.”

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

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