Cirque du Soleil’s Marjon van Grunsven
by Neil Ellis Orts • Photo by Tomas Muscionico
Dancer and choreographer Marjon van Grunsven is a native of Holland, and received her dance training in both Europe and the United States. For over a decade, she directed her own touring dance company. She now works with the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, and is currently artistic director for their show OVO, wherein she shapes 54 performers into a community of bugs who happen upon an egg. The usual (or unusual) Cirque hijinks ensue.
Van Grunsven talks with OutSmart about her training, her experiences with Cirque, and being a lesbian in the contemporary dance world.
Neil Ellis Orts: There are different dance forms. Do you have a preferred technique?
Marjon van Grunsven: I do. I specialize in a modern/jazz technique called the Simonson Technique. [Lynn Simonson] is an American dancer/choreographer/teacher who started out as a ballet dancer. She realized that the life span of a professional ballet [career] was rather short, and she started to invent and research methods that would enhance a longer career. So she combined a lot of different techniques and focused on body awareness and body/mind work. She taught us to look at every person and see them as an individual rather than as someone who has to look exactly the same as the person they’re standing next to.
How does this training translate into your work with Cirque du Soleil?
What’s great about this show I’m working on now, OVO, is that the creator, Deborah Colker, who is a Brazilian movement director, works in a very similar way. She challenged each artist to come with their own style of moving, and she molded it into what she wanted to see on the stage. It’s a show about insects, and we have very many different families of insects. Each family needs to move in a different way. Then within those families, she challenged each individual to move individually. So this very much fits the way I work, and for that reason it was a rather smooth transition.
I’ve written a lot about dance and seldom speak to a lesbian choreographer.
Is that true?
I can’t think of many prominent lesbian choreographers.
[Laughs] Sorry, but I think that’s funny. But you may be right—now you make me think. I know of an incredible tap-dance choreographer here in Texas, a woman who is gay.
Yes, she’s wonderful.
If you’ve not thought about it, you must not have experienced discrimination in the dance world.
Not at all. I happen to love women—I think they’re absolutely gorgeous. I also love men, but I end up being with women more so than with men. People end up finding out about that part of my life and I have absolutely no problem with it. In the theater business there are so many artists who are gay, and I’ve never felt people treat me differently solely because I’m gay. I think I’m seen as a strong personality, but you kind of have to be if you have to manage 54 people. I don’t know if that has anything to do with being gay. I know very many straight women who do this job and are incredible at it.
It’s just that I can rattle off several world-renowned gay male choreographers, but with lesbians, I go back to Loie Fuller and then there’s . . .
Acia Gray, and Marjon van Grunsven, you know. [Laughs] You’re probably right. We’re pretty special!
You had your own company—Memento Dance Company. Is that an ongoing concern?
I ended that in January 2010. I started it in ’96 in New York City, and when I brought it to Europe, we really started traveling and performing everywhere. Then I was approached by Cirque in 2007. I ended up loving the company and the people who work for Cirque. I’ve always been inspired by the work of Cirque, so it was kind of like a dream come true. I decided to commit myself to it, and I ended up telling the dancers in Holland [that] this is where it’s going to end after 11 years. I just taught a workshop in Germany and created a short piece on four dancers there. So I still like to keep the work alive, but the company doesn’t exist anymore.
It sounds like Cirque is your main thing for now.
That’s what I’m committed to for the moment—fully, 500 percent.
It looks like a lot of fun, so who can blame you?
It is such an incredibly fun and beautiful experience. It’s very rewarding to see 2,000 people every night, sometimes twice a day, get on their feet at the end of the show and just cheer and yell and clap and be happy. It’s a really beautiful thing to see and feel and be a part of.
OVO opens on March 10 under the Grand Chapiteau at Sam Houston Race Park, and runs through April 3. See cirquedusoleil.com for ticket information.
Neil Ellis Orts is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.