Profile: Marjon Van Grunsven

Marjon Van Grunsven, Artistic Director

Marjon Van Grunsven, Artistic Director

By Robert Israel

Marjon Van Grunsven’s world stretches from her native Holland to the States, Canada, Asia – wherever the touring production of Cirque de Soleil’s shows, for which she is artistic director, takes her. This summer Cirque’s trademark Grand Chapiteau will take up residence again on the Boston waterfront, beginning May 29th, 2014.

Intense, focused, engaging: Van Grunsven speaks in energetic bursts. At 39, she is highly self-aware of her unique gifts. She lives multiple lives: as a dancer, teacher, producer, choreographer, certified Pilates instructor, and founder of her own dance troupe. She’s lived and worked in the Netherlands, Germany, New York, France and South Korea. She runs on adrenalin and verve, works 10-12 hours each day, six days a week. She says she considers herself “blessed” to be associated with the Quebec-based Cirque de Soleil. Despite the long hours and the long stretches on the road coupled with formidable responsibilities – she artistically supervises a cast of 53 who have already performed over 500 shows since the dawn of 2010, an average of 10 shows a week – she maintains a fresh perspective. She has to.

“That’s my job,” she says. “I bring freshness to everything I do. I insist that a fresh approach be taken for each and every show.”

Van Grunsven joined Cirque de Soleil in 2007 as artistic director for their show Delirium, which closed in 2008.

“When one show closes, the creative team comes together to conceive a new show. Then they leave and let the artistic team take over,” she explained of Cirque’s process. “At that point the new show is a baby. It is untried, unproven. And the artistic team has to work with that baby and help that baby to grow.”

The last show that appeared in Boston, OVO, which translated as egg in Portuguese, the creative team’s concept envisaged an ecosystem teaming with insect life, where insects work, fight, and search for love, all while constantly buzzing and bumbling under the big top that is Cirque de Soleil’s venue. Accomplished acrobats take to the air in each Cirque show. The makeup, costumes and manic dances all conspire to create the illusion of the insect world.

“With OVO, I worked with a very young group of performers, and I had to help them realize they are artists,” Van Grunsven said.

And then she launched into a passionate description of her work:

“I teach them dance techniques,” she said. “I find DVDs for them to watch. I make lists. I put together schedules. I hold classes. I inspire them to become artists by learning to move their bodies to create magic with their movements each second they are on stage. There are no wasted moments. None. I insist that the cast seize each moment they are on stage, even if they only enter from the sidelines with only the tip of their toes that one moment is extremely important and must crystallize, in the minds of the 2,500 people attending the performance, that they are those creatures. Making magic on stage is hard work. I insist that the cast works harder, that they do not fake it, that they collaborate, and that they produce what the creative team envisioned.”

If her role sounds like the consummate task mistress drilling home lessons and rehearsing blocked scenes and demanding dance routines, Van Grunsven is quick to disabuse an interviewer of that notion. She insists she is always there as a beacon of support for the cast.

“To evolve into an artist and to work as a team, to achieve success individually and collectively – that is the goal of each cast member,” she said. “I often receive letters from audience members who come to the show and are moved by what they’ve seen us do. And many of these audience members have saved their money to afford a ticket, since the price of our shows is not cheap. And when they send letters, like the one I got recently from someone who had been quite ill and was approaching death and said that the show had inspired him to embrace life – when I get letters like this I share those letters with the cast. I also invite the audience to meet the cast, too, so that there is an intimacy between us.”

Her work for Cirque du Soleil is all-encompassing, with multiple dates and lots of touring.

“We performed OVO in Boston, Washington, Atlanta,” she said, “and then, when the run is completeled, I take a break and travel to Germany to teach.”

And after that?

“I intend to stay with Cirque de Soleil,” she said without hesitation. “It is my home. And, if I am fortunate, I hope to be chosen to be on the creative team next time and get to work with my creative juices in a different way, to put together a new work of art.”

To touch people’s lives, to create a spectacle with highly trained Cirque de Soleil artists that is intricately composed of multiple parts that dazzle and inspire: this is Marjon Van Grunsven’s mission and one she will continue to pursue with boundless enthusiasm.

Robert Israel can be reached at An earlier version of this profile appeared in Edge Magazine, Boston.


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