When Ryan Shinji Murray was 10, he made the short trek from his home in Ashton, Maryland to Washington, D.C. with his family to see a performance of Cirque du Soleil. A decade later, he did what he could to enter the circus profession and not long after that, he became a member of the popular performing troupe.
“Seeing that first performance definitely planted the seeds in me, but it wasn’t until much later that I really did anything about it,” he says. “It became a dream, but one that took a unique path to get there.”
With a background that included competitive gymnastics, diving, Kung Fu workouts, pole vaulting and just playing around on the trampoline in his back yard, Murray became something of a master of acrobatics.
He was a prominent diver in high school at Georgetown Prep and continued the sport as a student at NYU. He coached gymnastics at Preston Gymnastics in Gaithersburg and transferred to the University of Maryland.
“While I was there, I joined the Gymkana troupe, an exhibition gymnastics and acrobatic performance group,” he says. “It was a way to stay in shape and continue practicing acrobatics.”
It was while in the troupe that he realized that this was his passion and what he really wanted to do with his life. Thinking back to when he was 10, he sent a tape to the folks at Cirque du Soleil, hoping for a job. It didn’t materialize right away, and he headed back to New York to do what he could to get into the performance field.
“I tried to tap into anyone I could find on the performance scene—especially when it came to the circus,” Murray says. “I was lucky to get a job as a trampoline instructor at Trapeze School New York.”
Within a year, he was performing regularly with a chair balancing act in various venues throughout the city, as well as occasionally flying trapeze with the instructors at TSNY.
KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities
July 21 – September 18, 2016
Details and tickets
In 2009, he was invited to join Cirque Éloize, a theatrical circus company based in Montreal. Over the next few years, Murray was touring the world with the show as a trampoline wall artist, becoming a featured star known for his 20-foot tall chair stacking solo.
Then, in July of 2013, Murray got the call he had always hoped he would get. Cirque du Soleil contacted him to see if he would be interested in taking part in its new creation. Faster than he could do a double flip, he signed on the dotted line.
The result was one of the 13 acts in the production, KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities, which will perform under the iconic blue-and-yellow Big Top at Lerner Town Square at Tysons II from July 21 through Sept. 4. In the show, audiences are surrounded by whimsical curiosities that come to life in the most amazing ways, as if you are at a Victorian carnival or magical sideshow.
Murray is one of eight performers in the acro-net number, which he describes as “a perfect fusion of trampoline and the trapeze net.”
“The idea is that you can use all of the people together to push one person into the air, so we can push someone about 40 feet into the air,” he says. “It’s so much fun to be able to do a unique acrobatic act. People who watch it have such a fun time and the reactions are amazing.”
Written and directed by Michel Laprise, KURIOS—Cabinet of Curiosities is Cirque du Soleil’s 35th production since 1984, and includes a talented cast of 46 performance artists from 15 different countries.
The show follows a story where time comes to a complete stop, transporting the audience inside a fantasy realm where anything and everything is possible. It’s a world set in the 19th Century only seeing is disbelieving.
In an alternate yet familiar past, in a place where wonders abound for those who trust their imagination, a Seeker discovers that in order to glimpse the marvels that lie just below the surface, we must first learn to close our eyes. In his larger-than-life curio cabinet, the Seeker is convinced that there exists a hidden, invisible world—a place where the craziest ideas and the grandest dreams await.
From there, a collection of otherworldly characters suddenly steps into his makeshift mechanical world. When the outlandish, benevolent characters turn his world upside down with a touch of poetry and humor in an attempt to ignite the Seeker’s imagination, his curios jump to life one by one before his very eyes.
“It’s got everything you could imagine,” Murray says. “There’s such an assortment of crazy, acrobatic feats, elements of magic and plenty more. The transitions are smooth and there’s never a dull moment.”
Plus, being so close to his home, Murray is excited that his friends and family will have the chance to see what he’s been doing with his life.
“I’ve been doing circus professionally for about six years and only made it close to home one time, so it’s really great that I’ll be getting the chance to show everyone what keeps me happy,” he says.
And who knows. Maybe Murray will inspire a young kid to follow in his trampoline steps.