Sunday, July 11, 2010

Circus festival in Montreal

We are officially in the middle now of Montreal's circus festival, Montreal Completement Cirque!

Totem is in town only for the first few days of this festival, and as we ship out, many other wonderful shows are just arriving. But fortunately Cirque Eloize was not afraid to compete for audience with Cirque du Soleil, and they set up their tent right next to ours on the waterfront.
The kids and I went to see the show this afternoon.

Cirque Eloize is a company I love dearly; they were one of my first exposures to New Circus in the mid-90s, and the productions I've seen in recent years have blown me away. So I was thrilled to have the chance to see their brand-new show, iD.

My review of iD was facing some obstacles right from the start. I've spent the last 4 weeks in the ultra-production of Cirque du Soleil, where everything is gleaming and high-tech; Eloize looked like a garage show in comparison. The tent was hot - I'm sure their budget for air-conditioning is not as high as CdS. And I was immediately put off by the chosen theme for this show, which is mostly about urban machismo. The show is full of grungy street-style costumes, breakdancing, and simulated gang interactions, all taken quite seriously. It made everything in the show look rough-edged, loose, sloppy. It took some effort to look through all the posturing about and see the terrific talents in the cast.

Some artists in the show clearly showed great physical technique, but lacked compelling stage presence / performance energy, such as the handbalancers and the Roue Cyr artist. On the other hand, the guy who did the excellent Chinese pole act shone throughout the show, he looked like he was really in his element.

I made a note to myself at the end of the first act (which was, by the way, only 37 minutes long - ?!) "Do jumpropes, rollerblades, BMX bike tricks and breakdancing make a circus?" because really, that was all that was in the first act, with the addition of one (decent) aerial hoop piece.

The breakdancing elements particularly got to me. They seemed really implausible - you'd have all of these street-tough characters strutting around the stage and suddenly everyone would jump into a synchronized dance. And, of course, synchronized anything just asks for trouble - every tiny difference in their movements was noticeable. We definitely weren't seeing Rhythm Nation going on here.

The second act was better. There was a stacking-chairs act which was really thoughtfully designed and choreographed. An audience-volunteer bit with the BMX bike guy was good fun. The contortion piece, where the artist portrayed a beautiful bug-like creature, was lovely. And although I wasn't impressed with the Roue Cyr act, the transition from that act into the aerial fabric piece was great. The fabric piece (where she interacts with a rollerblader on the ground) was nothing to get too excited about, though she was clean and elegant. And I was just about ready to brush this off as an "oh well" show when the TRAMPOLINE ACT started, and pretty much redeemed the whole show!

The stage set was a cityscape, designed with blocks of building outlines cropping up in tiers along the back. They were moveable blocks, so throughout the show you'd see them changing orientation - and they used a video projector to display images on them, which was nice. But the trampoline embedded in the set was a well-kept secret until a spotlight showed a man at the highest point of one of the buildings, suddenly leap off as though to his death - and then spring right back up again to his platform.

It was magic from that point onwards, as everyone joined in the game, falling, bouncing, ricocheting off surfaces, flipping through the air, and jumping through windows, all to a great upbeat piece of music. The video projections added another element - constantly changing, obscuring the window openings and then showing them again, tricking the eye and keeping the piece continually dynamic and exciting. It was utterly marvelous, and I was happy to have paid my ticket price just for this one piece.

I found out later that there was supposed to be a very interesting juggling act in the show - it didn't happen. And in the preview you see aerial straps, which also didn't happen. So I'm not sure what the full story was. In any case, Cirque Eloize is just debuting this show, and if it's anything like Totem, it will still have a lot of tweaking ahead of it. With luck they will be able to bring the whole show to the level of artistry and excitement in that final act.

One last item to post for my blog in Montreal: I discovered today that Jeanne Mance park, and the Mont Royal park across the street, turn into big outdoor parties on Sunday afternoons. People pack the grounds, playing music, throwing Frisbees, and showing off a wild assortment of circus skills. I saw juggling club-passers, poi-spinners, and groups such as this one. I couldn't watch these people for long - the branch in which this girl hung her fabric was woefully thin, and the various people playing on the silks throughout the afternoon seemed to get less and less skilled. I couldn't help thinking that in the States, this would NEVER work. What big-city park would just look the other way? I'm not going to say that we never rigged in trees - in our younger, more-reckless days we certainly did - but in our own backyard, not on the equivalent of the Mall in Washington DC. Holy schmoly.

We left the park this evening with hugs goodbye for Alisa & Mila, who leave tomorrow on flights to Europe. We'll miss them in Quebec!


  1. The only Cirque Eloize show I've seen, Nebbia, went very much the same way in terms of going decent act, decent act, decent act, holy wow amazing trampoline act. Interesting that that seems to be a hallmark of theirs.

  2. sounds fun... now I need to see Eloize! And TOTALLY crazy about the circus in the park...