Interview: Cirque Du Soleil’s Artistic Director Tara Young on The Immortal World Tour

When people ask me to describe Cirque Du Soleil, I like to say it is, simply put, the Circus for pretentious people. It has all the same tropes –clowns, jugglers, amazing high flying feats of daring, trapeze acts, and more. What they do so well is dress up what we know and love about old-school circuses in spectacular costumes, staging, music, and theater trappings for a unique experience. One thing they have always done so well is special theme shows. In Vegas they have shows dedicated to Elvis, The Beatles, and magic. In Los Angeles they have a show dedicated to movies.

Ten years ago they only did one or two shows every couple of years. They now have over 21 ongoing shows. With seven of these in Las Vegas, it has become their de facto American home. This year they are embarking on their grandest concept ever, a tribute to Michael Jackson. The Immortal World Tour is the first time Cirque Du Soleil will play in arenas like Madison Square Garden, the Verizon Center, the Izod Center and more. It will be interesting to see if the intimate nature of a Cirque show can translate to these grand-scale environments.

The mostly sold-out tour kicked off a few months ago and will probably be hitting a city near you soon. The show is managed by Artistic Director Tara Young. Raised in Calgary, Alberta, Tara began dancing at the age of three. Her dream was to be on Broadway, and at just 19 years old she was fortunate enough to land her first job, dancing with Liza Minnelli in “STEPPIN OUT at Radio City Music Hall”.

I recently had a chance to speak with Tara Young. It went a little bit like this.

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An artistic director for Cirque du Soleil maintains the integrity of the production that was created. On a daily basis, I strive for excellence from the performers and the staff to present an opening night performance every single day.

How did the idea for The Immortal World Tour come about?

Michael Jackson had a huge affection for Cirque du Soleil so after he died it seemed like a natural progression for the two to collaborate together.
What type of research goes into putting a show like this together?

When honoring an icon like Michael Jackson it is imperative to look at all elements and facets of his life including the highs and lows.

When casting a show like this, do you look for outside performers or can you use performers from other Cirque Shows for this production?

Cirque du Soleil is a very loyal company that loves to promote from within. That said, with 21 shows being presented around the world, they also look outside and there is opportunity for people from all over the world to be a part of a Cirque du Soleil show.

There are so many different Cirque Productions going on right now. How independent are they from each other?

Every Cirque du Soleil show is a unique creation. This show specifically stands out because it was written and directed by Jamie King who comes from the pop/rock world.

For the Immortal World Tour, how do you decide which MJ Music to include out of such a large selection?

That was a decision made by the show creators. Because Michael has such an expansive library of music it was impossible to include every song [but] over 35 of his songs are featured in some way.

Doing a show like this must be difficult. I’m sure you want to do something unique and different, but at the same time fans will walk in expecting what they know… How do you avoid simply recreating MJ’s famous moments and do something exciting and new?

We create something exciting and new by making this collaboration with Cirque du Soleil. Seeing acrobatic performances set to Michael Jackson music is not very common on stage.

Will the show remain the same from city to city, or do you have a rotating set list to pull from?

The wonderful thing about our production is that it has a theatrical feel. No piece of live entertainment stays exactly the same every night even though our set list is consistent from city to city.

How involved was the Jackson family in this production?

The Estate was very involved and supportive. They appreciated Michael’s love for Cirque du Soleil and provided access to Michael’s original tracks and some never-before-heard clips.

What would you say are the show’s primary themes?

I always say that you will feel changed after seeing this production. We take you on a journey through a variety of emotions, and most importantly when audiences walk out of the arena they will feel inspired.

What is it about MJ that makes him live on long after his death?

He will forever be a legend because of the messages he told and the amount of people he touched in his lifetime.

After the tour ends, what’s next? Will it find a permanent home somewhere in Vegas?

We still have many more cities to visit with the tour, and after that this show won’t have a permanent residency in Vegas.