On World Circus Day, a peek backstage at Cirque du Soleil

  • A performer with Cirque du Soleil is seen backstage at a performance in Brussels, Belgium, 2002.
  • Meaning “Circles of the sun”, Cirque du Soleil is a Canadian theatrical company that was founded in 1984 by two street performers.
  • Cirque du Soleil was founded in a small town near Quebec called Baie-Saint-Paul by Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, who originally proposed a show called Cirque du Soleil to help celebrate Canada’s 450th anniversary.
  • Cirque du Soleil incorporated circus styles from around the world. 
  • Cirque du Soleil combines traditional circus stunts with theatrical music, lighting, and performance.
  • It has multiple permanent shows in Las Vegas, its biggest market, where it plays to thousands of audience members - adults and children alike - nightly.
  • And it has appeared in hundreds of cities on almost every continent in the world.
  • Despite the lack of animals, Cirque du Soleil was a tremendous success.
  • It has been seen by over 150 million people around the world.
  • By not competing directly with traditional circuses like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, Cirque du Soleil provided a new and appealing experience for its audiences.
  • Photographer Tim Georgeson was granted rare access behind the scenes of Cirque du Soleil.
  • The cast was in Brussels performing the show, Saltimbanco.
  • Close to half of Cirque du Soleil’s performers are former athletes, typically with backgrounds in gymnastics, trampolining, synchronized swimming and diving. 
  • Some Olympic athletes look to Cirque de Soliel as a way to earn a living while continuing to train and develop their skills.
  • “Athletes who join Cirque du Soleil must continue to develop their skills and challenge their limits. However, unlike the situation in the competitive environments they came from, they now do so by working in cooperation with their peers.” - Bernard Petiot, Cirque de Soleil’s Vice-President of Casting and Performance.
  • “They’re just like carnival people, they just like to hang together and support one another. They were great to work with, it was loads of fun,” Tim Georgeson said of his experience photographing Cirque de Soleil performers. 
  • Tim Georgeson is currently living in Montreal, Canada and continues to work on artistic projects with Cirque de Soleil performers and staff. 

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Australian Photographer Tim Georgeson has always been fascinated by the circus.

“I’ve just been always interested in that way of life. Not that I want to live that way of life, but I’ve just been fascinated by the characters and the people that are drawn to that lifestyle,” Georgeson told msnbc.

On assignment for National Geographic France in 2002, Georgeson traveled Europe, Canada, and Africa, photographing circus performers in an attempt to show the “evolution of circus.”

“I was shooting all traditional circus and showing how sort of sad that is,” Georgeson remarked. “Not many people are going to those circuses any more.” His project for the magazine also covered “contemporary cirque,” a more recently developed form where shows are character-driven, convey a story or theme, and rarely use animals. Georgeson even attended and covered an “underground circus” in Africa.

Ultimately, the assignment brought him to what he called “big bang circus,” like the highly popular Cirque de Soleil, a modern theatrical company that was founded in Montreal in 1984 by two street performers. Today, Cirque de Soleil brings in revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. 

During his travels in 2002, Georgeson shot the black and white photos seen here as part of a personal series. The Cirque de Soleil performers backstage in Brussels “love being photographed,” he said. “Performance still continues backstage, they’re always still performing and carrying on and trying things.”

Georgeson’s goal? “Just trying to get a little bit of a voyeuristic view into their life.”

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography

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