cirque du soleil
Photographs & text by: Florence Montmare
When I was little my dream was to be a pilot and my favorite thing was climbing trees. I wanted to be airborne. I was fascinated by dance and acrobatics and fantasized about running away with the circus. I became a photographer, and dove into the fascinating world of aerialists, fakirs, contortionists and dancers. Then I married a clown. One day we got the call that my husband Ambrose Martos was to create the lead role on the Cirque du Soleil show which was being built in a remote location in the jungle of Mexico. Circus is tribal and many artists lead nomadic lives, bringing their families on the road with them. So we packed up our cramped New York lives and traveled to paradise.
It is about following your dream, after all.
Didier Stowe is one of the Cirque du Soleil artists of the show Joya, a show about discovery, exploration, at science observatorium. One of the threads is the migratory journey of the monarch butterfly.
FM: Didier Stowe, who are you?
DS: That is a deep question. I define myself as an artist and I seek self expression. I am on a mission where I try to refine things I am doing. I am a circus acrobat on the trampoline for Joya by Cirque du Soleil on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico and I am a musician.
FM: How is life in the jungle?
DS: It’s secluded and it's peaceful. What you get here is the peacefulness. It is an opportunity to get work done, to learn a language, an instrument, to work on yourself and to focus in.
FM: You are deep into your experience as an artist. When I saw you on stage I was really taken by how you are doing wonderful things with your body that many people can never dream of doing. What does it mean to defy gravity?
DS: Being a gymnast, I discovered when I started making shows that I can blow peoples minds. I used to work for these classical small circuses in Saudi Arabia with high diving. I stood on top of a 100 ft tower and would dive into a 10 ft tank. That was my job and my first experience with the circus. I was thinking to myself, why am I doing this? It’s stupid, I could kill myself, even just climbing the tower!
FM: There is something so poetic about falling. You are losing control, but you have control…
DS: Falling is my discipline. When you have the wall it gives you this other framework and within it you can actually discover more things. Doing straight trampoline without the wall is almost too much freedom. Because you have the wall that structures you. If I have the wall to come back on, I can completely be free and let myself fall off. As long as I can reach out and touch the wall with one finger, that’s what is going to center me again. Then I know everything is going to be alright.
FM: How do you connect with your body when performing?
DS: My body is trained in a specific way, so I have a certain repertoire of movements. I can go within that range and try to get into a zone where the body knows and let it happen through the body. It is about being and eliminating the idea of ego and sticking to the connection to the body. It knows what to do.
FM: Did you ever dream of running away with the circus?
DS: No never! When I was younger I wrote three things on my mirror. First, going to the Olympics, second, being a rockstar and third to graduate from university. I'm kind of being a rockstar on the wall. It is easy to fall into the circus if you are doing the trampoline. After the high-diving, I got into a snowboard accident, where I dislocated my shoulder. At that point I remember thinking I need to refocus… and that was getting into the Olympics.
FM: The Olympics! That’s a monumental goal…
DS: I had total focus. I told myself to make everything possible from the moment I woke up to the moment I got to bed, that there could be no efforts for any other objective than the trampoline. It was a huge switch and it was actually one of the happiest moments in my life. All I was doing was visualizations and training. Just living for that one thing. It may seem selfish, but that's all I was doing. I trained six hours a day.
At one point I realized my body couldn’t follow, I couldn’t keep up. To this day I wonder perhaps I broke mentally as well. The Olympics were coming. I looked at my life realistically and asked myself, could I find other ways to seek out my goals, hard work and dedication in the circus discipline? So I completely shifted my attention to circus.
FM: Would you say the circus is a tribe?
DS: What I have seen in circuses is the sense of family and community. It used to be that artists cooked for each other. It is a community where everyone invests. Each of our roles are interdependent. We are in it together and if you're not giving your hundred percent, you’re making it hard for the other performers that are coming in after you.
FM: What are you hoping to share with the world as an artist?
I want to share some values and qualities that I deem important. Gratitude, showmanship, confidence and attention to detail. Confidence is about being able to disassociate yourself from what you are doing, a sort of nonchalant separation, without being caught up with stress or emotion. If am solid I don’t need to be bothered by anything external or stress about the future.
FM: The perfection element is part of the neurosis of being an artist. The journeys that we take become a patchwork of what we become…
DS: Yes, absolutely. I am truly discovering myself as a performer learning to accept my limitations in a sense, trying to deliver something every night to the audiences. Growing up I had high expectations on myself to accomplish things. I may never be fully satisfied and may not foresee the path to the goal. It may never fully show itself, but the journey, the learning process is the end result.
FM: Feeding off the energy of the audience and yet being able to disassociate. Creating and then letting it go. How do you negotiate the high and the lows and the places in between as an artist?
DS: It is pretty interesting, you learn to separate yourself. When you are in the high you take a moment and say: thank you that was awesome! When you are young and you start off, maybe it can get a bit addictive. If you are not on tour, you get a bit of a down, you may feel you need to get back on tour and do shows.
FM: You were a model for a while, how was that experience for you?
DS: I was never a huge fan of modeling. I didn't want to just be a body, when it feels like I can deliver more. I didn't like that aspect of it, for me there was no depth to it.
FM: What was your experience for this shoot like?
It was cool, because it felt like myself. It was a lot of fun to shoot with you and I was feeling in my element. And now you are collecting the story behind. That is a different experience too, something that I would have enjoyed more in modeling. In the shoot, we used some of my personal stuff, my guitar and we brought my lucky knife. My mom had a habit of always bringing me back small pocket knives from different places where she traveled. The one we brought was a rustic gorgeous knife she got in France. When I was younger it gave a sense of responsibility, adulthood and power. A symbol that gives a sensation that you are able to do things.
FM: So, who are you?
DS: I am all my discoveries. I am who I am right now.