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September 18, 2014

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Q+A: Rene Dupere

Cirque du Soleil has come a long way since composer Rene Dupere played tuba and composed music for a fledgling troupe of street performers in Quebec City in the early '80s.

To begin with there is Cirque du Soleil. It has become an international conglomerate and the most recognized entertainment in Las Vegas with five shows on the Strip - "Mystere," "O," "Zumanity," "Ka" and "Love" - with more to come.

When Dupere quit his job as a public school music teacher, Cirque didn't exist. There were just a lot of young, energetic, talented, ambitious performers on the streets of Quebec City - like fire-eating accordion player Guy Laliberte.

Laliberte, now a billionaire, organized the performers and the musicians in 1984 to help Quebec celebrate the 450th anniversary of the first French explorer to arrive in the territory.

The rest is acrobatic history.

Dupere was the musical genius behind Cirque for its first decade, creating the music for shows such as "Nouvelle Experience," "We Reinvent the Circus," "Saltimbanco," "Mystere" and "Alegria."

He received a Grammy nomination in 1996 for his "Alegria" composition in 1996, a year after he left Cirque to pursue other challenges.

He returned in 2004 to create the music for "Ka," a drastic departure from previous Cirque shows in that it had a story line to go along with the music and the acrobatics.

In 2004 Cirque created its own record label, Cirque du Soleil Musique, which has released soundtracks from most of its productions. The most recent release was "Love," the Beatles musical that debuted at the Mirage this summer. The CD became available this week.

Dupere recently discussed his life and what it was like to be in on the ground floor of the creation of one of the world's premier entertainment organizations.

Q: In the beginning did you ever dream where you would end up?

It was impossible to imagine. We were just a bunch of crazy people, but we knew something was happening there, something significant. Nobody knew what exactly. It is a success story that is difficult to understand, considering how we started.

How did you hook up with Guy Laliberte? Did you just bump into each other on the street?

Yes, actually. It did happen almost that way. I had been teaching kids for 14 years before joining Cirque du Soleil. I taught teenagers from 1968 to '81 and then I quit to become a full-time composer. It took almost five years before that happened. So, in the meantime, I joined a band of street players. They were looking for a tuba player. When I was a young kid, 7 years old, my father taught me how to play all three-valve instruments, so when I met these guys many years later I took the tuba. It was very easy to play. I joined the band, and it became the very first orchestra of Cirque du Soleil. At first our music was a mix of Dixieland with a small jazz ensemble. I was also playing keyboards when we were doing stage shows.

Where did Laliberte come along?

Guy was organizing a circus in 1984. He was looking for people and he knew us; we would meet in the streets. He took all the groups playing in Quebec and Montreal and built a show with all the acts we had prepared for years. It was a variety show at first, that's how I got involved. It was not the Cirque du Soleil at that time. When we decided to found Cirque, it was quite easy to put all those people together. Everybody was willing to do the best work he or she could possibly do.

You were the company's composer for many years. Did you have complete freedom?

The way we work at Cirque du Soleil, Guy - we like to call him a guide. When I started working on "Ka," he told me, "What do you think?" I said, "As far as I know, from what I've seen from the scenery, for me this should be more of a soundtrack, like a movie on a stage. I think it must be movie-oriented, written like a movie soundtrack."

He said "OK, go for it. I think that's a good start." That's why I came back with the idea for audio tracks with the sound of a symphonic orchestra and a 40-piece choir to get the big sound of the soundtrack. At the end, Guy said he liked what I did.

I have worked for other companies around the world, but I have never felt that kind of freedom. That's probably the reason for the success of Cirque du Soleil - the sense of risk. Guy is a gambler but an intelligent gambler. Most of the time gamblers lack judgment but not Guy. He is both a businessman and an artist.

Why did you leave Cirque for 10 years?

I thought I had done the most that I could do for that type of show, and I didn't want to repeat myself. I just wanted to do something else. It was a good time to leave and maybe have the possibility to come back. I told Guy, "If you have something totally different, tell me." I didn't quit because I was angry, I just wanted to do something else. It was exactly the same kind of decision I made when I was a teacher. I quit because I wanted to do something else.

A lot of people said I should do two, three or four more shows. "It would be your pension fund." But I said if I had followed that rule as a teacher, I would still be a teacher. I wanted to do something else, and I did. I did a lot of different things: movie soundtracks, CDs, jingles, television series and that kind of stuff.

How did you end up back with Cirque?

Guy called me in 2004 and asked me to come back to do "Ka," a totally different show.

It was a lot of pressure. I came in late in the process - four months to compose that kind of show. It was pretty short notice, but I decided to do it.

Are you working on anything else for Cirque?

Something is going on in Tokyo now for 2008.

How far along is it?

Actually, there has only been one production meeting. We're looking for what kind of instruments, what kind of musicians we want. It's a long process. At the same time, I'm working on a Spanish movie now. After I finish that, I will jump on the Tokyo show.

Sounds like your plate is full.

I'm working a lot, but I take time for myself. I'm not a workaholic. I can work 15 hours a day, but it's no problem to stop.

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