British Columbia

'It's such a life transforming event': Burnaby ring dancer swings into Cavalia

19-year-old Michelle Sargent will showcase her hoop skills for the next 2 years at Cavalia's upcoming production in China.

19-year-old Michelle Sargent will showcase her hoop skills in major circus tour across China

Michelle Sargent and dance partner Brittany Gee-Moore perform the Duo Hoop routine for the Vancouver Circus School. ( Brittany Gee-Moore/Youtube)

When Michelle Sargent soars through the air on a meter-wide hoop in front of thousands of people, her trainer Alain Gauthier wants her to look 'vulnerable'.

"The idea is when you're flying, I want you to recognize the human being in you," he tells her during a training session at the Vancouver Circus School in New Wesminster.

Sargent's career as a circus performer is budding. At 19-years-old, she's been selected to perform for Cavalia — a major circus production born from the minds behind Cirque du Soliel.

Her first assignment: a two-year long tour across China that will have her dancing and swinging through a suspended ring — a skill she's been honing for years.

"I transitioned into circus [from gymnastics] when I was 15 — and I've been in love with it ever since," she said. "I'm naturally flexible, so [I've] started doing a lot of contortion."

Cavalia will tour through China for the next two years. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

A proven mentor

Sargent is currently undergoing training before the tour kicks off next month. She's working under the guidance of Alain Gauthier, one of Cirque du Soleil's the original acrobats.

Having transitioned to the performance big leagues himself in the 1980s, he says making the leap is life-changing.

"I'm always super excited for these guys, because I've lived it," he said. "And I know the feeling and all the life experiences that it brings ... it's such a life transforming event."

From the long travel to the giant crowds, Gauthier says big productions like Cavalia and Cirque du Soleil can be intense — but they take artists to the next level.

With the CN Tower in the background, acrobat Alain Gauthier of Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil shows his skills. (Toronto Public Library)

"They gain a perception of an audience," he said, adding that the large crowds help the artists to establish their onstage identity.

And he knows Sargent can handle the jump to a 2,000 seat arena.

"I specifically casted her for the hoop. She is very virtuous at what she does, she is very elegant," he said.

Gauthier says Sargent's technical skills are up to speed, however, "it's not just about doing tricks — it's about the beauty of the whole act."

The mentor will continue to help Sargent shine both on and off the stage. But as she embarks on a new life filled with bright lights, big crowds, and exploration, he can't help but remain envious.

"It's a gift," he said.