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Failure stories

In doing this exercise, I have to fore mention that all these failures contributed to my successes later in my life and in doing so it built strength, motivation, will power, character and passionate dedication. After 41 years since my first « pliers » to the master teacher of the art of expression that I am today, the outcome is not a failure yet a dream come true. However the journey was long, rough, challenging with many failures amongst the successes.

Story #1

In 1980 after 4 years of studying dance, circumstance brought me to Vancouver where I was hired to dance for the Paula Ross Dance Company. Paula Ross, a pioneer of contemporary dance in Canada and someone I hold dear to my heart, was however very challenging physically, mentally and emotionally to work for. I was young, eager, tough and met every challenge that was thrown at me and started performing with the company. We went on horrendous tours of British Columbia, always in a minivan, like 31 shows in 24 days, but I gained stage experience and started to evolve as a professional dancer.

After a couple of years dancing for the company in Vancouver, the Paula Dance Company gets a touring grant to go out east. I thought great finally, here is my chance to get my parents approval. They were dead against me going into dance. So much so that I paid for my university expenses to study dance and live in residence at York University in Toronto. I worked as a busboy at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal for a year before 1st year university.
In any case, here was my golden opportunity to show my parents how serious I was and what a great performer I had become and then Paula Ross announces to me in front of the entire company that the touring grant was limited and in order to go one dancer will be cut and she cut me. WHAT!!! The disappointment sank to my feet and my blood rushed to my head. She went on to explain her reason for choosing me is that I am a survivor! My reaction in my head was thank-you and fuck- you for nothing lady. She was right however, I did survive but it took another 25 years before I finally had the chance to prove to my parents I made the right choice because until then they saw me as failure. Once I started working at Cirque du Soleil this is all changed. I am so happy my dad saw this before he passed away four years ago.

Story #2

In this story I am in no way critiquing Cirque du Soleil because this experience does not reflect the establishment or its policies and work ethics. I still proudly work for Le Cirque du Soleil and am grateful for their ongoing support of my work. This story was situational whereby there was a wrong pairing of individuals. Also for this reason I will not mention any names. But this was definitely a huge failure for me!

In 2007, I was hired as choreographer for Kooza! Another dream come true for me as I had been choreographing and teaching for years at this point in my career. So all of a sudden everything changed. I was gearing up for a huge change in my life. I started working long hours, trying to coordinate the choreographic aspect of the entire show of incredible circus acts and brilliant house cast. The challenge was huge. I was up for it but then after 2.5 months of working full days, for unjust reasons I cannot mention I was fired. This for me was a humongous failure. I would say the biggest in my career. It took a good five months to stabilize from that experience. It is important to me to always try to find the positive side of something I consider a failure. I have to be in constant evolution to be well. In hindsight, that difficult experience and failure taught me a lot. I now have firsthand experience on how the huge machine of production and creation works when building a show at Cirque du Soleil. It was without a doubt an honor and pleasure to have worked with brilliant artists, from performers to designers and technicians. However my life would have been so different today! But alas my survivor instincts had to once again snap to it and move on.

Story #3

In 1998 I had premiered a new solo for Sylvain Brochu at the Canada Dance Festival which he has commissioned with help of the Canada Council for Arts. Sylvain Brochu, a long time friend and colleague is a brilliant artist. He is a dancer, dance and yoga teacher extraordinaire and choreographer. Sylvain also studied Bouffon so we had this magnificent language of expression in common. I wanted to combine Bouffon and contemporary dance. I was being innovative for a young choreographer. So we put our creative souls together and started exploring. You can imagine because Bouffon was involved how much we laughed during this creative process. Priceless memories there for sure! In any case, Morphosis was created, a solo choreography for Sylvain whereby he interprets through dance the character of a mad scientist who is mixing potions and experimenting in his lab. During this piece he starts drinking his potions and becomes more and more frenetic until he sheds his costumes in a clever yet hilarious way and becomes a lizard with a tail and all. His movements change and become more lizards like, hissing, scratching and marking his territory. Funny, creepy and intriguing we watch him slithering around the space and we start to understand he has an itch in his armpit. He builds this up to a moment where surprisingly he pulls out a bug from his armpit, puts it in his hand and starts to pet his little friend. Then makes us understand that his bug friend is hungry and impatient so he starts to pull nose hairs from his nose to feed him, once again make us feel the pain of pulling a nose hair through corporal expression. After feeding his little pet he turns to the audience and gives us his final surprise where he eats the bug. Black out!

I thought for sure I had created a masterpiece. And in hindsight I most certainly did! I was ahead of my time. So in June 1998 Sylvain Brochu performs a brilliant solo show by three Canadian choreographers including myself. Morphosis premiered in Ottawa at National Art Center for the Canada Dance Festival to a full house of the who-is-who from the dance community across Canada. Sylvain perform all three works amazingly! And then to my huge surprise and disappointment the reaction from the audience to my work was, if at that, a polite applause. I wanted to die. Many colleagues I knew in dance were avoiding me because they did not know what to say to me. They did not get it! I had failed big. Another missed opportunity. Humiliated I wanted to pack it all in. Done!

Of course that was not the end of me because I am still choreographing today. I have to add that Sylvain Brochu took Morphosis on tour and received many very positive reviews! So I redeemed myself a year later. I knew I had something unique and a strong performance piece. Was I ahead of my time or was the audience to critical? It doesn’t matter anymore because I now know the choreography was brilliant.

Massimo AgostinelliFailure stories
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