November 28, 2018 at 3:27 pm EST | by Keith Loria
Lauded Canadian figure skater Shawn Sawyer finds new vistas in Cirque du Soleil production
Shawn Sawyer, gay news, Washington Blade

Shawn Sawyer says Cirque du Soleil offers a safe, fun environment for LGBT performers. (Photo courtesy Cirque du Soleil)

‘Crystal by Cirque du Soleil’


Capital One Arena


Dec. 5-9


Afternoon and evening shows each day



Cirque du Soleil has long been known for pushing the acrobatic envelope and its latest production “Crystal by Cirque du Soleil” proves again why the entertainment troupe is one of the most innovative and exciting performances around.

By blending circus arts and the world of ice skating, the production showcases a whimsical frozen playground where figure skaters partner with top acrobatics on aerial and ice feats. The show is at Capital One Arena Dec. 5-9.

Among the performers is Canadian figure skater Shawn Sawyer, a former Olympian who is gay. The 33-year-old first laced a pair of hockey skates as a small child and transitioned to figure skates when he was 9. From there, he quickly became serious about the sport.

Shawn Sawyer with cast mates in ‘Crystal.’ (Photo by Matt Beard; courtesy Cirque du Soleil)

“I pretty much tried every sport and dabbled in everything, following my brother in whatever sport he was doing. Figure skating was the first activity I did myself and I fell in love with it,” Sawyer says. “I started skating competitively right away and was doing international competitions by the time I was 12.”

Sawyer rose through the figure skating ranks, becoming a 2011 Canadian national silver medalist and a three-time Canadian national bronze medalist. He was proud to represent Canada at the 2006 Torino Olympics, finishing 12th.

“It was bigger than I thought it was going to be,” Sawyer says. “Once I got there, I was blown away. The first couple of days was hard to take it all in, but I settled in and found a good balance with my coach and teammates and it was just incredible.”

Those who follow the figure skating game understand that most skaters skate counter-clockwise, but he is that rare skater who skates clockwise. Additionally, Sawyer’s I and Y positions in spins and spirals were his trademark moves in competitions, even though male skaters aren’t awarded points for spirals.

“Probably one out of 40 skaters skate clockwise, so it’s pretty rare, but it’s more comfortable that way for me and I just started training that way,” he says. “As a male figure skater, there are no points given for flexibility and spirals, though that’s changing now a little. But I do them well and I knew the audience would like it, so I picked the audience’s opinions over the judges.”

He’s putting those moves to good use in “Crystal.” Directed by Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila, this 42nd Cirque du Soleil production glides into a world that springs to colorful life with astounding visual projections and a soundtrack that seamlessly blends popular music with the signature sound of Cirque du Soleil.

“I love the daily rituals of getting to the arena, eating and training all day and getting ready for the show,” Sawyer says. “I love that adrenaline coming into my system. And at the end of the day, when you get applause, it’s always nice to feel so appreciated.”

After retiring from competitive skating, Sawyer figured he’d be doing ice shows but never really thought that would include working for Cirque du Soleil. He learned of the concept from figure skating legend Kurt Browning and his interest was piqued.

“Before skating, I had other dreams. I was always a fan of when the circus came to town and just had this fascination,” Sawyer says. “My parents used to tell me that one day they would take me to Cirque du Soleil and the day they finally did, it just was the most amazing thing. I wanted to one day to be part of it if they ever tackled the ice element.”

He was thrilled that they opened that door last year. In “Crystal,” the title character embarks on an exhilarating tale of self-discovery as she dives into a world of her own imagination, which takes her into a surreal world at high speed to become what she was always destined: confident, liberated and empowered. Sawyer portrays one of the many characters she encounters and helps to reach her elusive destination.

“I’m here with the skates on my feet and I have various roles in the show,” Sawyer says. “We are there to support Crystal throughout her journey. Throughout the different themes of the show, we evolve and have a big celebration at the end.”

You can expect to see Sawyer doing triple jumps, backflips (which he was not allowed to do in competitions) and other incredible ice feats.

“I have an amplitude of energy that never runs out,” he says. “I love showing off my individual element.”

There are 43 members of the troupe, about half of them skaters. But there are no labels for the skaters — they aren’t hockey or figure skaters (as sometimes some ice shows have conflicts between the two), all the walls come down and they call themselves skaters.

It’s that same acceptance and openness that Sawyer feels as a gay member of the troupe.

“In North America, it’s quite more accepting than it was before. Coming from figure skating world, I’m used to the acceptance, but there has been some negative feedback along the way, but that’s life,” he says. “I feel comfortable in my skin and comfortable in my skin in this company. I can show my personality and be myself.”

There is a little group of performers who are LGBT in the company and a larger group in the greater Cirque du Soleil entity.

“They call us the ‘village’ and we get along really well, but we’re not a clique; we’re all a big family here,” Sawyer says. “We do talk with others in the other Cirque shows and send Instagrams of us playing around with make-up or lip-synching to Britney Spears. Just things to show our personalities and have fun.”

Arena shows like this usually last about five years but Sawyer isn’t sure how long “Crystal” will go on, but he’s hoping to tour internationally with the show.

“I’m really comfortable and like the company and where my career has brought me,” he says. “I’d like to stick with Cirque in the future, whether that means sticking with performing or learning something else with the company, there could be other doors opening in the future.”

Shawn Sawyer says he would like to tour internationally with current show ‘Crystal.’ (Photo by Matt Beard; courtesy Cirque du Soleil)

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