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December 21, 2014

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Downtown display lets Cirque employees show their artistic talents off the stage

Image

Courtesy Armand Thomas

Raising CityCenter, a collection of images taken by Cirque du Soleil show creation director Armand Thomas, documents the construction of CityCenter from 2006 to 2009.

On an afternoon in 2006, Armand Thomas stood at the intersection of Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard and looked up at the jumble of cranes and concrete that would eventually become CityCenter. He imagined the undulating glass and steel that would in time fill out the scaffolding of Aria, where the production he helped create, Cirque du Soleil’s “Viva Elvis,” was scheduled to open with the resort in three years. He took a picture.

A month later, Thomas returned to the same spot, and, realizing that the site already looked completely different, took a few more pictures. He continued to do this every few months until CityCenter opened to the public in December 2009.

By that time, Thomas had taken thousands of photographs, unwittingly documenting the rise of the largest privately funded construction project in U.S. history.

“I didn’t have an intent. It was home to the show and I thought I was going to pay tribute to its location through this photography,” says Thomas, a 17-year veteran of Cirque who currently serves as the general stage manager at “Mystere.” “Then I figured, this is interesting for posterity, for [Las Vegas] history. Maybe one day somebody’s gonna want to remember what it looked like empty or half-built.”

Thomas, for whom photography has been a longtime hobby, found the opportunity to showcase his work in “Parade: The Collective,” an art exhibition featuring the work of Cirque du Soleil employees, currently on display at downtown’s Trifecta Gallery through Jan. 25. His project, which ultimately took the form of a thousand-image collage capturing the different stages of construction, is joined by the work of more than 20 other employees, including performers, technicians and support staff.

“Parade” features painting, mixed-media, photography, video and sculpture. The work at Trifecta marks the eighth collective art exhibition held as part of a worldwide Cirque support program (also called Parade) established to support employees’ creative pursuits and cultural exploration beyond the stage.

“It’s not just a way to showcase everything, but also a way for them to participate in the community as well,” says Brent Sommerhauser, a local artist and art preparator who oversaw “Parade” as Cultural Action Coordinator for Cirque du Soleil. “I think part of it is the excitement of having your work on display at a great gallery and in a real art show, but also part of it is that the community comes around and sees this work too. It’s participatory.”

In addition to visual art showcases, Parade organizes a choreographer showcase and an original music showcase for its employees. It also encourages local culture immersion by reimbursing employees for participation in arts and culture events and activities.

Submissions for “Parade: The Collective” were open to employees across the world, and though few of the artists work professionally in their submitted mediums, the diversity of skill in the artwork on display is striking: Sergio Kiss, assistant head of rigging at “Mystère,” created a dark, dynamic self-portrait in oils; Salina Davenport, assistant head of projection for “Zarkana,” submitted an interactive video installation; and “Mystere” performers Kent Caldwell and Dina Emerson constructed a towering tree-like sculpture with interactive elements.

“These are the things that all of these employees have made time in their lives to do in addition to their work. Some of them were artists or musicians prior to joining Cirque and that’s how they got their jobs, and they don’t want to let that die. They’re finding ways to keep making their own creative content. It’s part of the culture of the company and who these people are. So all we did was give a place for it,” Sommerhauser says.

As for Thomas, the exhibition has reinforced his desire to pursue photography more seriously.

“In my later years, now that I’ve moved away from the intensity of show creation, I’m also trying to break through into the Las Vegas arts community with my photography,” he says. “I’m really proud of those photographs I’ve taken throughout my life, and when I look back on them, it would give me great joy to have other people look at them and say ‘Oh, that’s beautiful.’ Really it just comes down to that.”

"Parade: The Collective" is on display through Jan. 25 at the Trifecta Gallery inside the Arts Factory and is free and open to the public. For more information, visit the Trifecta Gallery's website.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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