Gay Skater Develops New Skills with Cirque du Soleil

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Caption: Gay Canadian Olympic figure skater Shawn Sawyer is featured in Cirque du Soleil’s new production, “Crystal.” Credit: Matt Beard.

Since 1984, the creative team at Cirque du Soleil has created more than 40 original productions. The acrobats and clowns of the Montreal-based troupe have performed in tents and arenas around the globe, on Broadway and the Las Vegas strip. The whimsical shows have drawn inspiration from ancient myths and modern fantasy and incorporated otherworldly creatures and extreme sports.

The newest production, “Crystal,” opening at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on July 18, is another first, introducing the company’s daring acrobatic and aerial stunts with the beauty and athletic thrills of figure skating.

One of the many performers to hit the ice is Canadian figure skater Shawn Sawyer. The 33-year-old began skating as a child and fulfilled his dream to represent his country at the 2006 Torino Olympics, finishing in the top 12. He retired from competitive skating and traveled the world with ice shows, but could never have imagined the opportunity to perform with Cirque du Soliel.

He elaborated, “I knew I would be a part of skating shows, for sure, but never in a million years could I imagine Cirque du Soleil would approach the element of ice while I was still performing,” Sawyer said in a telephone interview during quick a break in his grueling training schedule. “Now I’m learning different aspects of the acrobatic world and even acting. I’m learning a lot from this journey. I’m becoming more than a figure skater—an all-around athlete and an all-around artist. I’m learning every single day…new tricks, how to take care of my body better, learning to share such a big stage with other performers.”

Sawyer credits his success in this new “arena” to the work ethic and discipline required of competitive skaters. Even when on the road, he must maintain his skills on the ice and off. He already had a reputation as a bit of a daredevil, attempting jumps and flips that were never a part of the compulsory elements. Those abilities—along with his nature love of performing—gave him the edge when Cirque du Soleil directors began casting the show.

“Crystal,” the lead character in the production, embarks on an exhilarating tale of self-discovery as she dives into a world of her own imagination. She soars through this surreal world at high speed to become what she was always destined: confident, liberated, and empowered. Sawyer portrays one of the many characters she encounters and helps to reach her elusive destination.

“I can relate to that, it’s something I’ve grown up doing, finding my place in life, in society, in relationships. I like that role for myself,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer, who is openly gay, is also quick to dispel the perceptions of competitive figure skating as being homophobic, saying the sport has become “much more open about talking about it, which is a good thing. It’s a real thing, it’s reality. For Olympic athletes, at that moment it doesn’t always matter. They’re just proud to be representing their countries (and) themselves. As an athlete is performing, their goal is just to do their best.”

Cirque du Soleil presents “Crystal” at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Wednesday, July 18 through Sunday, July 29. Tickets start at $43 at CirqueDuSoleil.com/Crystal.


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