Cirque du Soleil has been performing extreme circus acts blended with elegant dance, music and costuming since the mid-1980s. But there is one stage it has not taken on among the variety of shows Cirque du Soleil has performed in its more than 30 years—until now.
Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, “Crystal,” features gymnasts and world-class ice skaters performing acrobatics in the air and on the ice, simultaneously.
The show centers on a woman named Crystal on a journey of self-discovery through her own imagination. The main inspiration for the show came from its unique use of ice. Everything from the concept to the costumes to the routines, all revolve around ice.
Openly gay figure skater Scott Smith joins “Crystal” for his first Cirque du Soleil show. During his competitive career, Smith earned three senior international medals. After retiring from competitive skating in 2009, he began his career as an entertainer performing aboard cruise ships for the Royal Caribbean. Smith began his journey with Cirque du Soleil in 2017.
Watermark spoke with Smith ahead of the show’s run in Orlando at the Amway Center Aug. 1-5.
WATERMARK: How did you first get into ice skating?
SCOTT SMITH: I attended a birthday party in first grade that was at a skating rink. I loved it so I stayed for group lessons, and the group lessons turned to private lessons. Then skating slowly took over my life.
In 2009 you went from competitive skating to entertainment. How was that transition?
It was a difficult transition at first. I was competing for a long time, and when you’re in that world you’re kind of in a bubble. It’s hard to see outside of it. I knew I wanted to continue skating and it was tricky at first, but as soon as I joined my first show it was great. It ended up being an easy transition after that.
Would you say there is a lot of prejudice in your career?
Not within the skating world, no. I’ve always been in an accepting environment. I wouldn’t say there’s really been any sort of bias. I do think sometimes in skating that male skaters can struggle with choreography, trying not to look too feminine but not look too stiff. It can be tricky.
Was there a difference in environment as a queer man between the competitive and entertainment world?
Yeah, I think it’s also a time in life thing. As you get older people tend to come out more. People in the skating world tend to come out more after they retire from competing, but that is definitely changing now.
You live in Salt Lake City. What lead you to move there from the east coast?
I moved there for a coach the last year I was competing. I moved there in 2008. I had been working with coaches in Boston for six years and I was ready for a change. There was a coach named Stephanee Grosscup that was willing to help with my skating career at that time so I moved out there.
Salt Lake City seems to be a fairly conservative place. Is it hard to identify as a gay man while living there?
No, Salt Lake City is just like any other city. It’s actually quite liberal. Outside of Salt Lake City is pretty conservative, but I pretty much just stay within the city limits when I’m there.
Are you involved with the LGBTQ community in Salt Lake City?
When I first moved there I knew absolutely nobody so I joined QUAC – which stands for Queer Utah Aquatics Club. I would swim as a cross training for skating so that way I was able to meet some new people and be active at the same time.
If you weren’t skating, what would you be doing?
I definitely think I would be involved in some sort of athletic career path. Ever since I was a little kid I was climbing on the jungle gym and running around. I was okay at school but sitting still and reading or doing math problems was never my thing. Maybe as some sort of fitness trainer? My dad is a tennis trainer, so I played tennis as a kid. Maybe I would have pursued that more, but definitely something within athletics.
How did you get involved with Cirque du Soleil?
I saw a Facebook casting ad that said “looking for ice skaters with circus qualities.” At the time I was performing on a cruise ship with a skating trapeze act and I thought, “Hey, you know what? This is perfect. I’ll apply. I’m exactly what they’re looking for.” I didn’t join the show right away. I joined shortly after the fourth week of the tour in November.
Would you say that performing Cirque du Soleil on ice is more dangerous than the typical shows?
I wouldn’t say it’s more dangerous, it just adds a different element. Cirque is always groundbreaking. They had the first water show and that adds an extra element, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily more dangerous. I think all Cirque shows are pretty dangerous.
Is there a particular point in the show where you’re worried about hurting yourself or hurting another performer?
There’s a part where I do a backflip over somebody and if my timing isn’t correct both of us would get hurt. I have to focus very hard at that point and make sure that my timing is right.
What’s an average day at Cirque du Soleil like?
There’s a misconception that people think you show up for the show, do the show and you’re done. But it’s not like that. There’s a lot of training involved, rehearsals, injury and injury management, learning choreography, helping others with choreography, learning new tricks — it’s definitely a full-time job.
Do you feel that you connect or relate to “Crystal’s” story of self-exploration?
I think everybody probably has a side of “Crystal” they can relate to. Like when you were a teenager, it can be tricky and tough trying to figure out how to fit in but also be yourself. I think everyone can relate to those moments in their life when they’re just trying your best while going through some struggle.
Other than being on ice, what makes “Crystal” unique?
Most of the Cirque shows are really original; there are acts that aren’t in any other show. There’s a swinging pole act that hasn’t been done before, the skating act that I’m a part of. Tap dance hasn’t really been done before the way we’re doing it.
Why should people come see “Crystal?”
Because it’s the best Cirque show… there’s ice!
Cirque du Soleil’s “Crystal” will perform for seven shows at the Amway Center in Orlando Aug. 1-5. Tickets start at $54 and are available at Ticketmaster.com/Cirque-du-Soleil-Crystal-Tickets.