With their acrobats and high-wire artists grounded right now because of the pandemic, it’s the future of Cirque du Soleil, instead, that is very much up in the air.
The Montreal-based circus company that grew from a group of buskers to a billion-dollar business filed for bankruptcy protection last month – and the latest news is that creditors are now battling shareholders over control of its future.
The business reporting on this behind-the-scenes drama has been as gripping as any fire-juggling act – with cameos by Quebecor’s Pierre-Karl Péladeau and Cirque founder and occasional spaceman Guy Laliberté. It’s been easy to lose sight of the hundreds upon hundreds of incredible athlete-artists who are currently out of work.
There are a couple of ways for Cirque fans to recall just how incredible these performers are, even with the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau down and in storage.
If you are a Bell Fibe subscriber, a number of the company’s filmed productions regularly air on Channel 1 and can also be streamed on demand.
In fact, Cirque’s two most jaw-dropping resident shows from Las Vegas are available to watch: Kà, a fantastical adventure with a set that itself seems defy gravity (directed by Robert Lepage, in residence at the MGM Grand since 2004); and O, a water-based show with tricks you won’t see anywhere else on Earth (directed by Franco Dragone, in residence at the Bellagio since 1998). Both of these shows are a reminder of just how game-changing Cirque was before it arguably started to overstretch itself artistically about a decade ago.
If you don’t have Bell Fibe, Cirque du Soleil has also been opening its vault of recordings and posting mash-ups of past shows on Cirque Connect Content Hub (a pandemic project) as well as on its YouTube channel. Its latest 60-minute special pieces together acrobatic moments from Luzia and Kurios – which you can read the Globe and Mail’s reviews of here and here.
Cirque du Soleil is only the largest of Quebec’s celebrated circus companies, of course. A whole modern circus industry has sprung up around them over the past few decades.
Indeed, at this point in the summer, Montreal is usually home to a circus festival called Montréal Complètement Cirque that transforms the city’s Quartier des Spectacles into one giant big-top. It is cancelled this year – but an alternative edition called Montréal Presque Cirque brought surprise solo and duo acts to the streets from July 6 to July 12. (You can check out shots of these pop-up performances on Instagram.)
Also part of the replacement festival is a series of short films called Au hasard de la ville, directed by Brigitte Poupart and rolling out regularly on ICI ARTV, the CBC’s French-language specialty channel devoted to arts and culture.
Again, the theme is circus in the city – and the episodes shot on and around Rue Saint-Denis include one where a trampolinist seemingly walks up and down the exterior wall of a house as a girl looks out from her balcony wistfully. It is a beautiful, poetic little vignette about our pandemic times that made me miss Montreal in the summer very much. You can stream the first four episodes of Au hasard de la ville right now online.
My favourite Montreal circus troupe is called Les 7 doigts de la main (or The 7 Fingers). Rather than hiding its circus performers under colourful costumes and makeup like Cirque does, it puts their acrobats, contortionists and strongmen and women front and centre, and builds intimate shows around their unique personalities and personal stories.
If you sign up for Les 7 doigts’ newsletter on their website, you’ll receive occasional links to full archival videos of their shows, ones not listed on their YouTube page.
Cuisine & Confessions is currently available – here’s the link (don’t tell anyone you got it from me). This show includes one of the most memorable pole routines I’ve ever seen, performed by an artist named Matias Plaual, who first tells the chilling true story of how his father became one of Argentina’s desaparecido, or “disappeared,” by the military government. Co-chief circus critic Brad Wheeler reviewed C&C when it played the Princess of Wales in Toronto in 2016.
Here’s an idea for those you missing live theatre: Why not perform a play at home with your friends or family? Vancouver’s Boca del Lupo company has commissioned playwrights to write Plays2Perform, scripts for bubble-sized casts of three to eight that can be read or acted out around dinner tables or campfires this summer.
The first four scripts are Super by Tara Beagan; Where does that blue come from? That robin’s egg blue? by Karen Hines; Negotiations by Hiro Kanagawa; and Pappadum by Jovanni Sy. You can order a box set of the scripts for $30 – and then, if you like, invite me into your bubble to review your performance.
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