Kyle Cragle: Balancing His Way to the Top
Aug 17, 2017 04:00PM ● Published by Nicole Gould
Photo Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil
Growing up, Kyle Cragle tried his hand at a variety of activities, but nothing seemed to suit him—until he turned seven. That was the year he discovered he excelled in the areas of flexibility and strength, and found his niche as a competitive gymnast.
At the age of nine, Cragle had witnessed his first Cirque du Soleil performance at the theatre of La Nouba in Orlando, Florida. Walking out of the theatre completely captivated by the show, Cragle looked at his parents and told them that’s what he wanted to do.
With the determination to pursue his vision, at the age of 15, Cragle left his home in Houston, Texas to attend the National Circus School’s high school program in Montreal, Canada, ultimately leading him to study full-time in the hand balancing contortionist arts in their college program.
After graduating from the Circus School in June 2016, Cragle was hired by Flip Fabrique to participate in their circus show, Crepuscule over the summer. Not soon after, the 20-year-old fulfilled his life-long dream of signing a contract to work as a Cirque du Soleil performer.
Cragle can be found suited as a Dragonfly, balancing from an approximate seven-foot structure, carefully crafting each and every movement, while leaving audience members awe-struck.
“The weirdest part is when people ask you about it. All my friends are at tech universities, medical school, and they’ll ask what I major in and I tell them hand balancing. People think it sounds weird until you tell them a month after I graduated I was working full-time with Cirque du Soleil. People are often put off by it because they don’t even know circus school exists.”
Catch one of Cragle’s final performances in the U.S before the show heads out for its very first European tour. Cirque du Soleil: OVO travels to Royal Farms Arena August 23rd through August 27th. OVO is an immersion into the teeming and energetic world of insects. Tickets range from $38–153. For more information call 410-347-2020 or visit Royalfarmsarena.com.
Tell me about where it all started? How did your interest in becoming a hand balancer surface?
My dad played sports in college, so did my brother, and so I tried [them] growing up. I tried out for baseball, soccer, football, and I was kind of horrible at all of them.
Every year for some reason, my mom sent me to a gym summer camp. When I was six turning seven, another girl who went to that gym with me was messing around, doing splits, so I tried it.
She thought I was good enough to show the men’s team head coach. He made me do some splits, pull ups, and pushups. They asked if I wanted to be on the team the next day. From then on, I started on the competitive gymnastics team at age seven.
After having started that, we traveled a lot. We had been to Las Vegas and seen shows there. I knew what the circus was, but wasn’t really intrigued. One year in Walt Disney World, my uncle bought us tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show. I was kind of tired and really didn’t want to go. I walked out of the show and had totally fallen in love with it. The show took me over. I really discovered a new passion. I told my parents that night that I wanted to do it, so I taught myself circus.
That’s funny because hand balancing was not my first discipline, that’s for sure. I was the worst at handstands. I could not hold one for more than four or five seconds, unless I got lucky. Hand balancing came later on. My mom was always looking for opportunities to do circus training elsewhere. She found the school in Montreal, did some research, and found out they have a full time high school and college program, summer camp, and recreational stuff. Cirque du Soleil actually sponsors the school. I tried a summer camp when I was 12 and did that for four years. It’s kind of like watching a show all over again because when I walked in, I knew it was where I wanted to end up going. Everything about it was perfect.
When I was 15, I auditioned for the high school program. Three weeks later, I moved to Montreal to start the program. While I was there, I had friends that were also converted gymnasts. I was doing aerial at the time. They wanted to try hand balancing and I fell in love and decided it was the best choice for me professionally.
What was it like attending college to study full-time as a hand balancing contortionist?
When I was in Houston and competing in gymnastics, I struggled because we lived in the suburbs where both the gym and school were in the same town. I went to school by 7 a.m., was picked up around 4 p.m., then went straight to the gym until 8:30 p.m., came back home by 9 p.m., ate dinner, and did homework. Then I did it over and over again. It really took a toll on my body. The days were really long and I was juggling my life.
But, in Montreal, I was living on campus—so it made things easier instead of doing full-time athletics and full-time school, they combined the two. For example, circus class would count for academics and dance would count as art credits. Honestly, it was amazing and everything I wanted.
The weirdest part is when people ask you about it. All my friends are at tech universities, medical school, and they’ll ask what I major in and I tell them hand balancing. People think it sounds weird until you tell them a month after I graduated I was working full-time with Cirque du Soleil. People are often put off by it because they don’t even know circus school exists.
Your performance is very dynamic and requires a lot of strength. What does a typical training day look like for you?
I was training like crazy at school because I was building a vocabulary and finding myself as an artist. At this point it’s pretty chill. I’m running on a noon to midnight schedule. I’ll be up by noon, head to the arena around 2 p.m. and I do a little light training. I’ll watch my routine a couple of times, touch my apparatus, and see what tweaks I can make to make it better. Then I’ll spend an hour training and stretching.
During the show, I’ll warm up and then perform. Once that act is over, I’ll train during intermission. We’re doing shows every week. I’m on my hands for an hour before every show.
Are injuries common with this field? Have you ever had a bad fall or accident while training? If so, how did you deal with it and avoid it happening again?
It’s a low risk discipline. There is definitely injury everywhere, especially in this show. I mean I’m not doing hand stands on the floor, I’m on a big structure about seven feet up, so, it’s definitely possible. Knock on wood, I haven’t gotten injured. It tends to be more chronic, long term build up rather than a one shot, “I broke my leg”. Wrist or shoulder problems build over time. I’m not pounding my body. I’m just standing, but the other way around.
What was the transition like from competitive gymnastics to a performing artist? Do you miss competing?
Some gymnasts have no trouble, but for me my transition took place over a longer period. We have a lot of artists that are converted gymnasts, but came directly from competition. For me, I knew I wanted to switch over so much sooner, so my transition kind of started happening once I told my parents I wanted to work for the circus. By the time I actually quit gymnastics, I had already known three or four years prior that I wanted to quit because the circus was what I wanted to do.
As my gymnastics career ended and I started with the circus, I had already been doing classes and summer camps. That transition was really quick. By time you’re in circus school, you’re already seen as a circus artist.
What type of process did you have to go through in order to join the Cirque Du Soleil cast? How does it feel to finally fulfill your dream of being a professional circus artist with Cirque du Soleil? What are you looking forward to most?
The school I was going to isn’t affiliated, but is sponsored by Cirque du Soleil. There are casting scouts that basically know who every student is and they come to watch our shows. I was a part of a three-year program and during year two, I was approached with a school project involving Cirque du Soleil, 45 Degrees, which is their special events sector.
That summer I worked for Cirque’s special events, so a lot of them already knew who I was. The next year when I was supposed to graduate, I put my information into their database in September. By November I was already in contact with a talent scout. They had seen my act previously, so I didn’t have to do an entire act during the audition, but I had to do strength acrobatics, acting, all that sort of stuff. Three weeks after my audition they offered me a job with OVO.
People ask me that all the time and I always say that it’s so weird because even today when I walk into work, it feels so normal that I kind of question if it’s real or not. I’m still pinching myself because I’m finally on the inside, walking down the hallway to my dressing room where everything has the Cirque du Soleil logo on it.
We’re going on our first European tour in October and that’s a big privilege to be a part of. I’m going to be in London, England for nine weeks and I’m super excited for that. From the artistic standpoint, I’ve only been a part of this tour for a little over eight months. I’m still improving my act and getting comfortable, pushing boundaries in that sense. I’m continuing to explore as a circus artist in my act and OVO has a lot to offer me.
What’s in the future for Kyle Cragle?
I definitely want to stay with the company for a while. I’m really, really enjoying it. Its everything I expected it to be. At the same time, I would like to do more circus festivals in Europe. They have this whole circuit of Cabarets in Germany at small venues. I’d like to do that.
I have a lot to learn and it’s important to be in the present moment. I’ve been looking forward to this goal for 10 years. This has been a long time coming. I’m going to savor this moment and really enjoy it.