Fire Cyr Wheel on Germany’s Got Talent

In 2018 Srikanta performed his fire cyr wheel act for Germany’s Got Talent.
He was treated to 3 YES! VOTES & a standing ovation from both the crowd and judges.

UPCOMING TEACHING EVENTS

INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO SERIES

Learn to fire dance with ex Cirque du Soleil Fire Dancer Srikanta Barefoot. Over 165 minutes of video! Instruction, inspiration and fun! Learn More…

5% DISCOUNT ON PYROTERRA LIGHTTOYS:

We highly recommend Lighttoys LED Props & Visual Poi.  For a 5% discount, visit the Lighttoys website & use our lighttoys promo code: fusionartsandlighttoysrullezz

Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil fire dancers on the stage of ZAIA
Cirque du Soleil fire dancers on the stage of ZAIA

The following interview was originally published on Home of Poi in January 2011

Srikanta Barefoot was hired by Cirque du Soleil in the summer of 2007 to be the featured fire artist, fire coach and to play the character of the Shaman for what was to become ZAIA, Cirque du Soleil’s first resident show in Asia. Over the course of the next 3 years, Srikanta worked to create, maintain and star in the most elaborate fire dance production Cirque du Soleil has ever made.

Why & how did you get involved with the Cirque du Soleil?

I knew for a long time that I wanted to take my art to the next level and thought Cirque du Soleil would be a good way for me to focus on my art without the headache of managing my own career. In December 2006 I sent a short DVD of my act, and received an auto-generated email back from Cirque, saying “thanks, we will get back to you soon, later or never”.

Then, 7 months later, I received a phone call from Cirque du Soleil and was told that I was the artistic team’s first choice. Later, when talking with Martino Muller, the choreographer, he explained that out of all the DVD’s he had seen of Fire Acts, I was the only one he could imagine working with, because I was the only one who actually danced with the fire.

What were your duties during your time with Cirque du Soleil?

My mission was to create the biggest Cirque du Soleil fire act ever using 20+ acrobats and dancers without previous fire experience as background performers during my own 5 minute solo, using poi, staff, double staff & double swords.

I worked closely with the artistic team to develop the ideas and group choreography for the fire act. I worked with the props department to design the fire tools used in the act, trained technicians and artists in fire safety and advised on many other technical aspects of the production.

In addition to performing 6 nights per week as the Shaman and the featured fire artist, I oversaw the one-year apprenticeship of my back-up, Zhen Bo, who is a ballet dancer with a base in Chinese Martial Arts. It was interesting to teach fire to someone with his background and explore possibilities, which neither of us had previously imagined.

Following his incorporation as a back-up, we were given the task of creating a duo fire act, which we performed for several months prior to my departure.

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How did you feel on opening night?

It was intense. I still remember the moments before walking on stage with fire- the intensity of the bass and drums during the previous act vibrating through my body, the feeling of the space around me and the sold-out crowd. Then the tribal drum transition before my act began, technicians on either side of me lit my staff. I ran to the center of the stage, stopped, gestured towards the sky with my staff to cue the music, took a deep breath, and began to dance.

What was the best part of working with Cirque du Soleil?

On a personal level, the best thing Cirque brought to me is my wife Jen, who grew up dancing in Paris with another artist on ZAIA and was in Macau visiting during the show’s premier.

Artistically, the best part was learning how to work professionally within a professional environment.   Performing 6 nights per week over the course of 2 years was a challenging journey, which required me to grow both as an individual and as an artist. I now feel empowered and more confident than ever in my ability to create, coach and perform.

Can you talk about the challenges you faced in working with Cirque du Soleil?

Among the challenges artists faced with ZAIA, including typhoons, injuries caused by impractical costuming and the threat of the show closing, the most significant challenge I found was balancing physical and mental health with the intense schedule of training and performing 8-12 shows per week

How did you remain inspired with performing over 700 shows?

I was lucky to be a solo artist and my own coach, with the liberty to change my choreography at will, unlike virtually every other artist in the show, who had to do the same exact thing every night to remain cohesive with their group and/or pre-programmed automation. I found that cultivating other interests (like straps, the cyr wheel, capoeira and body percussion) as well as working on side projects (such as my “feel good inc” and cyr wheel videos) was an excellent way to keep active and inspired.

Why did you decide not to renew your contract with Cirque du Soleil?

My choice to give up my position with ZAIA was both artistic and environmental. Even though I found ways to stay creative within my act, I felt the potential to grow beyond the musical and artistic confines. Thus, I decided to leave ZAIA for the same reason why I joined Cirque du Soleil in the first place, to follow the natural development of my art. This is not to say that I would not work for CDS again, but rather that I was ready for a new project.

UPCOMING TEACHING EVENTS

INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO SERIES

Learn to fire dance with ex Cirque du Soleil Fire Dancer Srikanta Barefoot. Over 165 minutes of video! Instruction, inspiration and fun! Learn More…

5% DISCOUNT ON PYROTERRA LIGHTTOYS:

We highly recommend Lighttoys LED Props & Visual Poi.  For a 5% discount, visit the Lighttoys website & use our lighttoys promo code: fusionartsandlighttoysrullezz

Fire Cyr Wheel on America’s Got Talent

America’s Got Talent contacted Srikanta in July 2017 to ask if he’d like to perform Fire Cyr Wheel on their show. As an ex Cirque du Soleil Artist and one of only 3 Fire Cyr Wheel Artists in the World, America’s Got Talent was eager to have Srikanta’s Fire Cyr Wheel Act on Season 13 of AGT.  Srikanta accepted to participate and tells his story below.

Disclaimer: The following account of my experience on the USGT show is not to be confused with the AGT (America’s Got Talent) Show. Likewise, any mention of MBC is not to be confused with the US Based Television Network NBC.   Furthermore, any images or videos used to illustrate this fictional story are not to be associated with their source.

Why I chose to participate

Over the years I’ve been solicited to participate on many of these “Got Talent” (USA, Russia, France, Egypt, India…) and I’d always refused. As someone who hasn’t watched tv for two decades I’d only caught glimpses of these shows but it seemed to me that they all focused more on fabricating drama than the actual art. So why did I suddenly change my mind and say “yes”?

First, for free trips back home. I’ve been missing California and the idea of having multiple free trips to visit friends and family (and surf/ skimboard) was attractive.

Second, the idea of the competition appealed to me. I was assured by USGT that it was a fair competition and I liked the challenge of doing something amazing in 90-120 seconds.

Third, at this point in my career I have so many tricks up my sleeve and the idea of being able to share them all was appealing.

USGT was open to having me perform solo, duo or with other Fusion Arts Artists and I was excited to share our Fire Dance, Light Dance and Cyr Wheel Acts with the American Public.

First Steps

The first part of the process is a couple of phone interviews in which USGT gathered various info about me and my life story: Growing up on the California Central Coast, discovering fire dancing, running away with the Cirque du Soleil, living in Macau, meeting and marrying my lovely performance partner Jen, and the current juggling act of living as a Freelance Artist and father in the South of France.

By the second phone call it was painfully clear that USGT had decided to omit a large part of my story in favor of creating a persona based upon my early life experiences. I had shared that I grew up going to school in an alternative (yoga) community which was centered around the teachings of a silent Indian Guru. Baba Hari Das gave me the name Srikanta when I was born and introduced me to the staff when I was 9. At the age of 19 I began applying my prior knowledge of Indian Martial Arts with the Staff and mixing it with dance, acrobatics and my own natural way of moving.

For USGT, that is where the story ended. During the second interview they weren’t interested in my experiences with the Cirque du Soleil, my life as a Freelance Artist or life in France.

Fast forward to March 2018 and I’m on my way to perform for USGT in LA between performing Fusion Arts Group Fire Dance Show in Marrakesh and my Classic Cyr Wheel Act in Paris.

Welcome to the Fake

The day of the filming was a marathon. USGT requires contestants to arrive in the morning and to wait all day, in costume until their segment is called for filming. During this time, USGT films various B roll sequences with the contestants backstage. They set up multiple scenarios in which contestants are asked to pretend to be meeting another contestant, or pretend to be warming up, or pretend to be waiting in the waiting room.   Each contestant is also interviewed by USGT.

All of these dialogues are fabricated. What you don’t see on tv are the coaches who constantly interrupt, to ask you to say what they want you to say or focus on whatever it is which matches the persona they’ve created for you.

In the interview and dialogues with other contestants, as soon as I’d talk about my life as a professional Artist or my 3 years and 700+ shows with the Cirque du Soleil they would cut me off saying “Talk about growing up in a yoga cult and your love for Nature”.   There were certain lines they would try to feed me again and again but I had to refuse as it felt disingenuous.

The best such moment was when they asked me to pretend to be focusing myself in the moments before stepping on stage. The nice lady looked at her notes for who I was supposed to be and said…”OK do whatever you do before you go onstage…hmmm, let me see (reading notes)…oh yes- meditate”.

It’s a lonely moment when you are the only one laughing out loud at a joke none of the producers or people behind the cameras get or think is funny. I tried to explain that I don’t meditate before going onstage but this just seemed to confuse them.

In the end I tried to appease them with some improvised tai chi/ wushu warm ups, but I’m afraid it may not have met the “yoga flame” persona they’d created for me.

When they took me close to the stage to film a b-roll segment, I was alarmed by the noise & commotion coming from the audience. People were out of their seats and seemed extremely agitated. It felt like a riot but my friends who came to see the show later explained to me how it works. In fact, USGT hires a bunch of animators who draw reactions from the public. They even offer prizes and monetary rewards for people in the audience to do ridiculous things.

All of the fabrication and fake made for a strange 14 hour wait prior to stepping onstage. I tried to strike up a real conversation with someone else in the waiting room but I discovered that the majority of the people you see in that room are not waiting at all. They are paid to be there so that the room looks full.

My Performance

My moment of glory came at last and I performed a 1.5 minute version of my Fire Cyr Wheel Act. All 4 Judges voted yes. They praised my grace and musicality, with one Judge saying “this is exactly what this show needs”.

I went back to my hotel room that night, happy to know I’d be coming back home to California again soon. I flew off to my next shows in Paris and made it back home to Montpellier. Then, as I awaited the confirmation for my next travel dates, things began to smell fishy.

Although my assigned producer at USGT had confirmed my LED Cyr Wheel Act for round two, he wouldn’t confirm my dates.

He wrote it wasn’t sure that MBC would place me even if the judges had voted YES.  This came as a surprise to me. Before agreeing to participate, I had been assured by this same USGT producer that the competition was fair. “It is in the hands of the judges” he wrote. But ultimately MBC chooses who stays and who goes.  

The Let Down

Sure enough, just 3 days before I thought I’d be flying back to LA, I received an email saying that MBC had decided not to move forward with me as a contestant on the show.

It was frustrating and a huge disappointment. I never would have participated if I’d known the competition was rigged (decided behind the scenes not by the jury but by the MBC show producers).

Meanwhile they’ve got clips of my interview and act in the commercial for this season’s show. I can’t say that I feel good about having volunteered my time and money to do this unpaid promo for MBC.

Of course they don’t tell you why you weren’t chosen to continue but I have my theories.

First and foremost, I think my unwillingness to play the cliché persona they’d created for me must have been paramount in the eyes of those who’s job it is to create a drama of the show.   The Cult-Grown Half-Indian Half- Californian Fire-Guru was not to be. It’s funny because if they had simply told me up front “OK, Sri, this is the role we want you to play on the show” I likely would have accepted the part and had fun with it.   But as they chose instead to try to manipulate me on the sly, I rebelled against it. Lesson: Play the game or you’re out.

It’s sad to imagine (as MBC must) that the American Public is so simple as to only be able to relate to stereotypical personalities on television. I wonder if this is MBC’s assessment or the truth.

What is the point of a show about Art if the Artists identities are deliberately obscured and their talents hidden by the camera’s constant panning to Judge and Audience reactions?

I admit that as someone who hasn’t watched tv for two decades I am hopelessly out of touch with tv culture. As an expat of more than 10 years I may also be out of touch with mainstream American Culture. But I do believe that a Talent Show which reveals Artists for who they are, and showcases their talents could work without any need for fabricated dramas.

It’s my conviction that people are curious and like to discover new things.   So why does USGT keep feeding their viewers fabricated personalities based on stereotypes? In my opinion, this is a lack of leadership on the part of the direction of these “Got Talent Shows”. They fall back on the familiar because they know it works- its safe and it sells.   For all their talk of inspiring people, money is the bottom line and they are either too afraid or too greedy to offer anything else to the American Public.

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UPCOMING TEACHING EVENTS

INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO SERIES

Learn to fire dance with ex Cirque du Soleil Fire Dancer Srikanta Barefoot. Over 165 minutes of video! Instruction, inspiration and fun! Learn More…

5% DISCOUNT ON PYROTERRA LIGHTTOYS:

We highly recommend Lighttoys LED Props & Visual Poi.  For a 5% discount, visit the Lighttoys website & use our lighttoys promo code: fusionartsandlighttoysrullezz