A Toronto woman has just become the first Black, female Cirque du Soleil assistant director.
Kafi Pierre is now the first Black woman to be in charge of the creative direction of the global theatrical production Cirque du Soleil. “The fact that the company is moving forward and they understand that having our voices behind the table is incredibly important, and the fact that I am part of opening the door, is golden to me,” she said.
When she was just 15, Pierre asked her parents to send her New York to pursue dancing at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. However, her talents were first noticed at the age of nine when she was accepted in the Claude Watson School for the Performing Arts. Her career took off in New York, and eventually, the city became her permanent home. “It was intense,” she said. “I was taking five dance classes a day. I was taking ballet, jazz, flamenco, and African dance. It was an explosion of joy and growth, and it really shaped what I thought about myself as a dancer.”
Her first big role was the production ‘Lion King’ back in 2001 in Toronto. “It’s a really special show. It was the first show that I had been in with a predominantly black cast. It was a lot of work, rehearsals, staging, as well as being a swing in the show.” In 2006, Pierre subbed in for a last-minute role for a Cirque du Soleil production. Pierre ended up staying with the company for close to six years, working on two productions: Delirium and Dralium. She went on to perform in Bombay Dreams, America’s Got Talent, ela! The Musical and eventually was recruited as the associate choreographer for the critically-acclaimed production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in Chicago. “The cast was predominantly local talent that came from that really rich gospel tradition,” she said.
Then in 2015, Pierre took on the artistic coordination role for “The Han Show” in Wuhan, China, where she worked alongside Franco Dragone to restage and choreograph the world-class production. Pierre’s age and career injuries made her transition from dancer to working behind the curtain. Twelve years passed and Pierre reunited with Circus du Soleil as a member of its artistic direction team. “As a performer, you have the luxury of not worrying about ticket sales or money being spent,” she said. “On this side, your decisions have massive impact, especially financial, your casting decisions if something goes wrong with the show, how you get back up and running, and technical challenges.”
Although, Pierre admits her craft is tough, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Theatre is a living breathing thing and Cirque is no different,” she said. “I like to multitask. You get to work with all these departments that are creative, super talented, and super nerdy. I also get to coach artists who want to learn more, do more by providing workshops for them, finding really great choreographers to help them grow.” “I love the direction that Cirque is going and I feel super honored and super blessed to be part of it.” Pierre is currently working on Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA, which is performing across the United States.