By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun
One of them soars thousands of feet above the Niagara Peninsula in a mock but oh-so-realistic aerial combat. The second ensures musicians will play their C Sharps and B Flats correctly. And the two youngest members of this unusual group can expect oohs and aahs from audiences everywhere when their training is
The Montreal-based Cirque de Soleil taught professional Canadian gymnasts Scott Lang and Jason Hardabura to use their skills in a more
creative -- and less competitive -- environment.
The four men who are, respectively, a former Canadian Air Force F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilot, an oboist trained in Montreal and Toronto, and a pair of national team gymnasts, have little in common -- except for their unique occupations.
Paul Molnar spent 11 years in the air force -- he flew 32 combat missions during the Gulf War in 1990-91 -- and wanted to continue flying when he left the air force as a captain, but the charms of settling down and piloting an Airbus for a commercial airline escaped him.
As luck would have it, Molnar and his business partner, Paul Ransbury, another former Hornet pilot, saw simulated aerial combat in laser-equipped planes in the U.S. and realized they had found what they were looking for.
"We said, 'Let's Canadianize it,'" says Molnar, a Tillsonbourg, Ont. native. So seven years ago they formed what has become Fighter Combat International with operations in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. and Mesa, Ariz.
At the Cirque de Soleil, above and below left, gymnasts Scott Lang and Jason Hardabura trained in acrobatics, artistic impression and much more.
Molnar admits there are days when the stability of flying a plane-load of tourists to somewhere sunny seems attractive, but he doesn't sound convinced: when it comes to dogfights versus domesticity, the winner is a foregone conclusion.
Like Molnar, Scott Lang and Jason Hardabura wanted to stay with what they knew -- gymnastics -- but wanted new horizons too.
"I needed a change," says Calgary's Lang, conceding he was burnt out after nine years of national and international gymnastics.
The opportunity came from the Cirque de Soleil. Lang says he'd seen friends and coaches leave the national gymnastics team and head to the Montreal-based Cirque. "I'd never really thought about it, but once I thought about it seriously, it seemed like the right move to take."
Lang left the national team in May, and within three weeks he was training with the Cirque. There, he and Oakville's Hardabura completed four months of general training in acrobatics and artistic impression -- stage skills, presentation and so on.
Hardabura says he, too, had had enough of the grind of amateur gymnastics in Canada. He went off to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1997 on a scholarship, and in 1999 was the NCAA floor exercises and all-round champion.
Hardabura, who has a degree in advertising and marketing, worked in an agency in Lincoln for a couple of years. "I was doing something I thought I loved and I still do, but I felt that I just couldn't sit in an office yet. I still wanted to do more with the acrobatics and the gymnastics, but I didn't want to be judged on it any longer."
Hardabura says he became interested in the Cirque in the last two years of his gymnastics career. He sent a tape to Cirque de Soleil then went to an audition in Los Angeles. He supported himself by performing at half-time during basketball games across the U.S. Then came the invitation from Montreal.
Cirque de Soleil will be in Toronto Sept. 17 and 18 at the National Job Fair. Sandra Vorano, senior HR advisor for the company's touring shows, says Toronto has a deep talent pool, and it will be recruiting technical directors, production staff, carpenters, riggers, cooks and so (but not performers).
Montreal was one of the places where oboist Gary Armstrong trained. A student at the Conservatory of Music in Quebec, Armstrong followed his instructor to Toronto in 1973.
He says he eventually tired of studying so he left school and started freelancing as a musician, only to realize he didn't like the pressures of performing. "I also realized there was a need for quality repair work in Toronto and I received a Canada Council grant (in 1975) to take this band repair course in the U.S."
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Armstrong learned to repair woodwinds and saxophones in six months at the Allied Repair School in Elkhorn, Wis.
Back in Toronto, Armstrong eventually set himself up in the repair business and freelanced for the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company as an oboist. By 1981 he'd moved his business from the basement of his house to a commercial location and Gary Armstrong Woodwinds Ltd. was up and running.
Armstrong, who's given a few repair workshops himself, says there's only one school in Canada that teaches instrument repair, Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Alta. Graduates shouldn't have trouble finding a job. Armstrong himself employs a Keyano grad and says musicians are always looking for repair technicians.
(Reach freelancer David Chilton at firstname.lastname@example.org
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