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Engineering student performs at Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas

Martial arts background creates new opportunities for Jason Chen-Leung

Lisha Hassanali

Schulich School of Engineering student Jason Chen-Leung is one of the performers in KÀ by Cirque du Soleil. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

Running off to the circus might be considered a unique choice to some. However, for Schulich School of Engineering student Jason Chen-Leung the decision was an easy one to make when it came to his audition with Cirque du Soleil.

“I practice Wushu, it’s a type of performance martial arts,” says Chen-Leung, who trained at the Calgary Tai Chi and Martial Arts College. “I went to a performance at a very young age with my mom. She saw that I was excited and she suggested enrolling in a class.”

Chen-Leung immediately liked the flips, choreography and tumbling of Wushu. It is also an excellent way to stay in shape and physically fit.

“It is very energetic,” he adds. “It’s almost like halfway between gymnastics and karate. In Wushu we emphasize fluidity and power.”

Athletics and artistry

Years of training and competitions lead to an audition for KÀ by Cirque du Soleil. The elite performance entertainment organization has delighted more than 155 million spectators worldwide. KÀ is a gravity-defying production featuring an innovative blend of acrobatic feats, Capoeira, puppetry, projections and martial arts.

“I play an officer and a spearman, performing 10 times a week: two shows a day, five times a week,” explains Chen-Leung. “I would say there is a certain amount of pressure on stage. You have to be at your best but everyone is super helpful and we cheer each other on.”

KÀ tells the coming of age story of a young man and a young woman through their encounters with love, conflict and the duality of KÀ, the fire that can unite or separate, destroy or illuminate.

Support for student success

Chen-Leung is taking time off from his third year of mechanical engineering studies to perform in Las Vegas. He started with Cirque du Soleil in August and continues to perform weekly.

“The school has been very supportive,” he says. “Engineering is very structured and I thought I would fall through the cracks but I received help to plan out my courses.”

The Engineering Student Centre and Marjan Eggermont, associate dean (student affairs) offered guidance in course planning and support to allow Chen-Leung to take advantage of this incredible opportunity.

“We try to support student success in all its forms at the Schulich School,” says Eggermont.

Chen-Leung has always made time for both martial arts and engineering; however, performing on the heavily engineered set of KÀ has broadened his perspective on the possibilities of engineering. The set features a Sand Cliff deck, moving platforms, cranes and five stage lifts used to move props and artists during the show. In addition, a post and beam structure extends from the stage area into the audience, to create a continuous performance space that defies traditional theatres.

Third-year mechanical engineering student is taking a break from his studies to perform at Cirque du Soleil at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“This experience has opened my eyes up a bit,” he says. “Engineering is so much more than I thought. There’s a ton of opportunities available in the entertainment industry from the rotating stage construction, the need for specialized equipment and creating industrial pieces like the wheel of death.”

Jason Chen-Leung performs in KÀ by Cirque du Soleil at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.