Working on the sewing machine to complete the TORUK headpiece (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

Working on the sewing machine to complete the TORUK headpiece (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

One of the greatest gifts for someone who is part of the creative industry is to be in the presence of others that will continue to challenge and inspire them. For me Cirque du Soleil was filled with people that had a positive impact on me on a daily basis.

For the first three days I was excited to be working in the millinery department on a headpiece for the TORUK show inspired by James Cameron’s film Avatar (currently on tour in North America). And I learnt about the important role the costume department plays in replacing and repairing pieces.

Working with yet another skillful mentor, Nathalie guided me through the importance of strength in the construction of millinery pieces. As it is a requirement for many pieces to be able to withstand the extreme high level of movement undertaken by a performer in a Cirque du Soleil show. There is a strong sense of balance between the aesthetic and functional aspects of a design. With hidden Velcro patches, snap closures to ensure that the performer feels comfortable and confident in the construction of the headpiece.

Textures in the TORUK headpiece (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

Textures in the TORUK headpiece (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

I began this process using photographic reference to ensure what I created was a genuine representation of what was already used on tour with the show. Searching my way through buckets of artificial flowers to find the perfect materials that captured the tropical tribe in which the Avatar was a part of. Whether it was twisting yarn to make dreadlocks with the drill, spray painting flowers or adding white beads to give the illusion of snow; working on this piece was incredibly diverse and visually simulating. Throughout my time with this department I became aware of how the wonderful team was, working as a cohesive unit at every stage and creative decision that was made.

On Thursday I was given the opportunity to work with the Product Development department that ensures the quality of the fabrics and garments coming in and out of Cirque du Soleil. I spent the majority of time in what is referred to as ‘Matèriauthèque’. A library filled with rows and rows of fabric samples, manipulations and accessories (possibly my favourite place at Cirque!) as the entire space is bursting with inspiration as different colours and textures jump out from the rows that creatively engulf you.

The Cirque du Soleil car park covered in snow (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

The Cirque du Soleil car park covered in snow (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

During my last day at Cirque for the week I worked with Rino Côté in the Research and Development department, where we discussed how 3D printers are used at Cirque du Soleil and possibilities they can have in assisting the manufacturing process. His in-depth knowledge of different materials and 3D modeling software showed me how to bring the astounding array of state of the art machinery to life. With today acting as another reminder of how honoured I am to be apart of an inspirational environment that continues to surprise me at every turn. I am amazed at how quickly two weeks has already flown by and I am looking forward to learning more about the incredible teams that makes up Cirque du Soleil.

– Tess Tavener Hanks, March 2016