Imagining otherworldly performance spaces populated by acrobats and clowns is what Jean-François Bouchard—one of Cirque du Soleil's directors of creation—does best. For his latest project, the Bar at the Edge of the Earth, on Celebrity Cruises, performers interact with guests in an itinerant "cocktail lounge." Bouchard chats with T+L about how his seaside upbringing inspired a floating bar.
1. If Cirque du Soleil's members hail from more than 40 countries and speak 25 languages, how does everyone communicate?
Our working language is English. That said, we have a multitude of translators, and there's body language, which works well when you have a Russian coach training a Chinese artist.
2. What goes on inside the Bar at the Edge of the Earth?
That's our little secret, because the environment changes depending on the spirit of the guests. People are invited to cross a gateway into an imaginary world on the other side of the mirror, where Cirque artists—a sea urchin-shaped clown, a mysterious glassblower sharing messages in bottles—draw them into the performance, greet them as old friends, and, of course, offer drinks and appetizers. On every cruise there's a masquerade ball with an extensive dinner menu. Guests dress all in white and images are projected onto them.
3. How did you conceive the show?
Le Petit Prince, Jules Verne, and Leonardo da Vinci inspired it, and my childhood memories. I was born in Sept-Îles, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, and the Lantern Tuner character—one of six I created for this piece—is modeled on my father's best friend, a lighthouse guardian.
4. Which cruises will feature the performances?
Constellation was the first ship scheduled, followed by Summit this past February. Two more ships are slated for next year. These are all Celebrity's Millennium-class specials.
5. What sort of work did you do before joining Cirque?
My background is in design and architecture. In 1984, I started my own company, Bouchard Design, which engineered a number of business interiors in Montreal, including the former bars Bain Douche, Bowling Bar, and L'Opéra. It's exceptional for a bar to last—especially in Montreal because it's such a small market—but the Bar at the Edge of the Earth should have a very long life.
6. What other projects are you involved in at Cirque?
I orchestrate all major premieres—they aren't meant to steal the spotlight, but they do pay elaborate tribute to the shows. Most recently I planned the after-party for our new martial arts-inspired show Ka in Las Vegas.
7. What cities do you love to visit?
Hong Kong and London are both magical, and Milan too because it's the best place in the world for design. For me the world is fabulous.
8. Where are you off to next?
My wife is Brazilian, and we have a small house in São Francisco do Sul. It's a nice break from winter in Montreal. The beaches are beautiful, and at the same time you're surrounded by the city's 500-year-old history. The culture is a wonderful mix of South American and European.
9. How can one take advantage of São Francisco's seaside locale?
With 12 different beaches there are plenty of options, but I recommend taking a sightseeing tour around the Baía da Batitonga in a big long boat called a scuna.
10. Any favorite spots in town?
I love the Museu Nacional do Mar, where they have a wide range of Brazilian boats—from those made out of tree trunks to houseboats. Binot de Gonneville, a pastry shop where they make the most delicious pão de queijo (cheese bread), is also at the top of my list.