Yesterday we finally got a glimpse inside North America's most prestigious circus school, Montreal's Ecole National de Cirque. Kyle, a first-year student there, gave us a tour of the place after his classes had finished. He's in the middle of a three-week required summer session, which is a simple training regimen to keep them in shape during their break. (well, simple... if 5 hours a day of hard physical work can be called simple). Between this, and Kyle's performances in the upcoming circus festival, Montreal Completement Cirque, he will really only have the month of August free for summer vacation.
We were happy to have this tour of ENC, which is not the easiest thing to arrange. You can't just drop in and ask to walk around the school - appointments must be scheduled in advance, and students are limited in the amount of visitors / hours they can bring people in. This is just one of many rules that govern the workings of ENC, preserving its privacy and exclusivity. Visitors (or students or employees for that matter) are not allowed to take pictures or videos inside the school for posting on the Internet. (photo below from their Web site!) And Kyle explained that from a student's perspective, there are a myriad of other regulations - such as no training without a teacher present, which can be a challenge for these ultra-driven circus students who want to be training at all hours of the day.
While the environment seems, to outsiders, in the words of a friend of mine, "not warm and fuzzy", there is no arguing about the extraordinary caliber of training that takes place inside, or the incomparable facilities they've built for it. Infusions of funding from the Canadian government and private sources (Cirque du Soleil is their biggest donor) have provided for multiple soaring studio spaces, walls of windows, smaller classrooms, dormitories, offices, meeting rooms, and the most comprehensive and beautiful circus library I've ever seen.
The main studio spaces themselves are dazzling to walk around. With 40-foot ceilings covered with rigging grids, everything is custom-designed for circus. Powertracks, swinging trapeze rigs, Chinese poles, Cyr wheels, trampolines - the rooms are simply circus heaven, and surprisingly uncluttered - even the rooms where equipment is stored are spacious and neatly organized. On one of the higher floors, there is a huge, light-filled studio which is rented out by professional artists and companies who come in to develop work. As Kyle says, there is always something going on at ENC, shows being created, famous performers visiting.
As a student, Kyle's studies are intense and highly planned-out. Every student takes a certain number of general classes, including dance, acting, flexibility and "muscu", which is physical conditioning. They each have a primary coach for their specialization, and occasional guest professional artists as instructors. While some students come in as generalists, without a specific plan, others, like Kyle, know their specialty beforehand. Students are primarily Quebecois, with a sprinkling of Americans and Europeans.
It is an inspiring place to visit, especially after seeing the student shows a couple of weeks ago. If the future of circus is here, it's looking very bright indeed.