21 July 2011

Under a … Big Top

(I owe the double entendre title to Bob at Positive Lite and Rural Ramblings of the Third Kind.)

Never before have I been such a participant in a festival in this city of — what are they saying…106? — eclectic festivals, but Montréal Complètement Cirque drew me in and kept me most entertained indeed. At this moment, I have been to four shows, with the possible addition of some free outdoor fare on Saturday, so let me comment on each of them.

We can thank being Facebook friends with the festival for this one: a last-minute half-price offer for that day's show! Woo-hoo! The trek to the Tohu (quite far up there) was well worth it. Now I like the Tohu at the best of times, quite a nice space, but this show by Australian circus Circa was truly excellent.

Elements of humour and burlesque, almost fetish with the costumes and their removal as well as the bright red pumps, got us in the right mood. Some excellent circus acts kept us that way. I think the best thing for me was that the three men and three women who made up the troupe blurred the gender role lines a bit: there was plenty of lifting by both genders and plenty of being lifted by each as well.

Here's a little taste of the show:

Wunderkammer / Circa | Australie from MONTRÉAL COMPLÈTEMENT CiRQUE on Vimeo.

No more opportunities to see this during the festival, but I have heard they will be back in town in the coming months. DO see it if you get the chance.

I probably had the highest expectations for this show, held in an actual big top (take that, Bob!) in the parking lot of the CBC building, right in my neighbourhood. What's not to provoke expectations: pretty, bendy boys, the promise of percussion…. In the end, this might have been the show I liked the least of my four, although I did like it. Aussies again, and they were handing out free red clown noses in the entry tent!

If I see another show in a big top (just can't get enough of that), I will probably spring for the more expensive seats, as they were actual seats, not slightly padded narrow benches. That didn't help with my appreciation of the show. Then there was the start, very scratch-DJ-esque, which is fine, not really my scene, but it went on a bit long. I almost looked at my watch! (I managed to restrain myself). Eventually, we moved on to some acrobatics, and I felt good about it all again.

All boys, all quite good, with a few little missteps that they recovered from most professionally. We were speculating that the missteps kind of remind us how difficult some of these things are, which can't be a bad thing. Some very entertaining acrobatics, and another feature I enjoyed was seeing some of the performers playing the role of apparatus counterweight, climbing the tent supports to lower the suspended device and rappelling down to raise it back up.

There was a totally amazing beatboxer/graffiti artist who did his thing a bit too long in my opinion, but the multimedia experience of his duelling with the DJ while doing some graffiti on a canvas that subsequently fit into the film of him drawing on a section of the Berlin Wall was impressive. And the drummer was very good with the multi-drums, especially when it became a 360-degree physical workout for him. And can I forget the contortionist? Impressive.

A taste?

Tom Tom Crew | Australie from MONTRÉAL COMPLÈTEMENT CiRQUE on Vimeo.

They still have three shows left as I write this: Thursday, Friday and Saturday the 21, 22 and 23 July. If you go on Saturday, you get a second festival experience at the end, as the fireworks starts at 10 pm and is very visible from that parking lot.

This was probably my overall favourite, but I'm a bit of a fan of the traditionally québécois so that might have coloured my view. Oh yeah, and all the boys had beards and looked like lumberjacks…bendy, bendy lumberjacks. That didn't hurt a bit. The funny hook: handing out free fake beards at the door!

So good traditional sounding Québec music, use of adaptations of circus apparati made with logs and sticks and such, even an outhouse as a prop for the grandpa character and then the three other guys. My favourite pretty much did most of the acrobatics, certainly with the support (and I do mean support) of the others, and there was some excellent dance from one of the two women in the group.

Really edgy was the juggling — with axes! — and the adaptation of jumping through hoops, as the hoops were formed by bending a long cross-cut saw into a hoop with the teeth facing the arrival of the jumper! [Potential] ouch!

I do have to add that we were pretty well entertained by the family sitting in front of us, as one of the daughters (in her 20's) was completely out of control in her enthusiasm.

Here's a little taste, and because I can't resist it's a little clip of them after the show:

Première du Timber! par Cirque Alfonse from MONTRÉAL COMPLÈTEMENT CiRQUE on Vimeo.

No more representations of this show during the festival, but I'm hopeful that we will be able to see more of Cirque Alphonse sometime soon. Love them!

This evening was our last paid show, the Cabaret of Les Sept Doigts de la Main (The Seven Fingers of the Hand). The first half was heavily interrupted by the emcee, who my companion detested most vehemently! I found him mildly to semi-severely irritating, and we were united in our great pleasure that he was absent for most of the second half, after the intermission. I believe he was the creator of the piece, but playing a 'comedic' role of dissatisfied emcee who keeps being distracted and missing the amazing feats of the performers. There was also a mock 'get a piano player from the audience' thing that was really all about introducing the ringer who was supposed to accompany the acts (and did an excellent job, to the point that some of the people behind us thought it was actually a recording).

So highlights of the first half. Really good choreography of the ensemble in the setting of a speakeasy (where is the line between modern dance and circus? Is there one?). Really good trapeze guy who did some excellent asymmetrical stuff that I loved, and the woman on the Russian bar (okay, since it isn't called the Russian pole we can all stop snickering like adolescents) was really breathtakingly graceful and strong.

The second half, which we enjoyed much more. Montréal in 2011. The music was upbeat and varied, the comedy stronger and the acrobatics no less impressive. There's a special place in my heart for the cigar box juggler, who plied his trade to a remix of an old hip-hop song that sounded like the best of soundtracks from an old Mickey Mouse movie. We all laughed when the trapeze guy came over to hand him a stack of boxes and then steal a quick kiss on the cheek while his hands were full, feigning swooning afterwards. We also enjoyed the teeterboard action, the boys in tutus talking about what made them feel like men (funny) and then the two guys with the Chinese hoops (tumble through, many levels of hoops).

And let me just compliment the music again. There is a fabulous singer who could belt out a moving ballad, but also do experimental stuff with sampling her own beat-boxy sounds and layering them to make something truly original and beautiful.

A taste of the show:

Première du Cabaret 2011 from MONTRÉAL COMPLÈTEMENT CiRQUE on Vimeo.

This one is still showing every night until 23 July and is totally worth seeing. We kind of wanted to be on the floor, although we had chosen tickets on the balcony, so think about that if you go. And the emcee in the first half? Having thoroughly dissed the character, I have to give credit to the individual. He is the artistic director of this troupe and the show as a whole was brilliant.

I will be back next year, a true fan of a festival at last!

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