Jared Khalifa toured with Cirque de Soleil this year. (photo from Jared Khalifa)
Last November, Jared Khalifa’s career was at a low point. He had just come back from Denmark, where injuries in both ankles and one knee had limited his performance representing Canada at an international competition for tumbling, a high-intensity form of gymnastics where, after a running start, one tumbles, cartwheels and twirls at high speed down a course before coming to an artful landing at the end of the track. He was having a hard time getting motivated to get back up on his feet when he was contacted by a talent scout who had first spoken to him months before – a scout for the internationally renowned Cirque de Soleil.
Montreal-based Cirque de Soleil, famous for its innovative blend of music, narrative, dance and acrobatics, is now the largest theatrical producer in the world. The scout had expressed interest in Khalifa after seeing him perform previously but had told Khalifa, then 17, that he was too young. But, at 18, only weeks after his time in Denmark, Cirque wanted Khalifa to submit a demo.
Khalifa submitted a mixed demo reflecting his broad mix of skills – singing, dancing, martial arts and gymnastics – and was told he had made it into the final selection for singers. He would be invited to make a live audition when the circus was next in town.
A month later, he was contacted by another branch of Cirque’s talent scouts who were unaware of his possible selection as a singer – they were interested in offering him a training contract doing teeterboard. Teeterboard is a circus mainstay, where two performers collaborate on different ends of a giant teeter-totter, propelling each other into the sky to twirl and tumble in the air. The circus was coming for Khalifa from multiple angles, and soon he was signed to do a show. He joined Cirque de Soleil for a two-month American tour, traveling from Louisiana to New York. With between five and eight shows a week, he did around 50 shows in those eight weeks.
Khalifa said he has had “a thrilling year,” which is surely putting it mildly. He said he learned a tremendous amount on the road with the troupe of perhaps 40 performers and 100 support staff.
“The troupe became very close,” said Khalifa, who is still friends with many of the performers he met. “Despite the exhaustion, I was exhilarated every day.”
How did Khalifa – who went to Vancouver Talmud Torah and King David High School – get to Cirque de Soleil?
He began studying capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that integrates acrobatic and dance elements, at 3 years old. That led to an interest in gymnastics and dance and, when he was 8, he also began studying musical theatre. He attended the summer musical theatre program at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! And, by his teen years, he was training in competitive tumbling. “It’s all about the elegance you bring to it,” said Khalifa, whose Instagram feed is a study in bending the laws of physics.
Since his return to Vancouver, Khalifa has signed with a film and television acting agency. He is part of the local troupe ShowStoppers and has also started studying hip-hop and urban street-style dancing. Khalifa – whose skills, as has been mentioned, include capoeira, musical theatre, dancing, singing, gymnastics, tumbling and circus performance – said, without a hint of irony, that his focus now is to become “more well-rounded,” an athlete and artist.
Matthew Gindin is a Vancouver freelance writer and journalist. He blogs on spirituality and social justice at seeking her voice (hashkata.com) and has been published in the Forward, Tikkun, Elephant Journal and elsewhere.