19 July 2012

Cirque-ing My Wagons

Well, if we didn't know before now, this is the true reason that I will never make official "reviewer" status with all its attendant free tickets to things: I am doing a round-up of my circus experiences in the recent Festival Montréal Complètement Cirque after it's over, too late for you to be inspired by my glowing review to attend something or by my "meh" to avoid one. You might, however, be inspired to take a more serious look at this, my favourite Montréal festival, when it comes back around next year for the fourth edition.

With last year's experience still echoing pleasantly in our heads and between-festival delights like the Cirque Éloize's "Rain" and the lovely and entertaining shows of the graduating students of the École nationale de cirque freshly inspiring us, we set ourselves an ambitious program of six performances in nine days, not counting the kick-off parade and the odd exposure to the free performances in the evenings. Shall we dive right in?

Our very first show was local: Séquence 8 by Les 7 Doigts de la Main, at the Tohu. Now, if you have never been to the Tohu, you must go. It is really the best venue for the circus, which is not really surprising, considering that it was built for that. At various performances there, we have sat everywhere from front row to up in the rafters and there really are no bad seats. The seats could be a tad more comfortable, but that might be just me.

The show? A real showcase of a variety of talents, including a little faux talk show comedy routine that might not have been the strongest part of the show, but made for a good thread tying things together. What really stood out for me were two particular performances. Eric Bates' cigar box routine was quite enjoyable, despite maybe one slip-up (well-recovered), and was made especially enjoyable by the comedy bit where the rest of the cast propped him up with cigar boxes at the beginning, then with much larger cubes that I believe they call banquine at the end. The visual contrast of that was quite amusing. My other favourite performance was Ugo Dario and Maxim Laurin on the Korean plank. This, for the uninitiated, is the teeter-totter-like device, and these two do some real innovating on the apparatus instead of just making each other go high enough to do acrobatics. Oh, they do that, too, but the added creativity makes it even more enjoyable.

Have a look at the promotional clip:

Next up, something much more cabaret-like with La Soirée, a showcase of a number of different British performers (I don't think all of them were actually British, but we'll let that go). This was at the Théâtre Olympia and the stage was a very tiny circular platform set in the middle of the seats! Now, if you haven't been there before, you should know that this is the kind of theatre with conventional row seating on the balcony, but tables on the floor, with the addition of some circular rows of seats around the little stage for this performance. There were also tables up on what would otherwise be the stage.

I have three favourites from this one to mention. No, not David O'Mer, who is very pretty and you can easily find his bathtub routine on YouTube. The opening act, Gateau au Chocolat, was a big black drag queen who made no attempt to hide his beard, all part of the act. Between the motorboating of a woman in the audience and some rather forward activity with a few of the men (sitting on, groping, a little light ravaging), he was most entertaining indeed. So, too, was Ursula Martinez. She did a fabulous act combining a striptease with a magically disappearing and reappearing hanky. She made the red square disappear so many times Jean Charest might have wanted to make her a member of his cabinet, but she also kept bringing it back from the most unlikely of places. I can't say from where it emerged at the end when she only wearing heels and a smile!

For me, the best circus act of the Soirée was Nate Cooper, who emerged on roller skates and did such a marvelous job of being on the edge of falling across the main stage, down the stairs and up onto the little circular stage — without actually falling, mind you — that we were all a little concerned when he picked up the rather large knives to juggle them. Those were dropped at this point without actually harming anyone in the front rows. It wasn't until he had done a costume change in front of us, shedding pants and skates for a slinky gown and very high platform shoes, that he got onto the pogo stick fitted with bull horns up top and truly juggled those knives while jumping around the stage. Very nice.

A little taste of La Soirée:

On to Scandanavia! First up on this front was Undermän by Cirkus Cirkör from Sweden at the Théâtre National. I chose this one for the butchness of the look (beefy guys in plaid shirts) and they rounded out their performance with some personal stories of how they came to work together (stories of lost loves who were also acrobatic partners), music (they were all quite talented on this account), tossing around some rather heavy kettle bell weights and then tossing around each other. They also did some good juggling and Mattias Andersson is very graceful on the Cyr Wheel. In a butch way, of course. We were a little worried about the advertised brief concert with the fourth guy when it was announced, but he really sold his own comedic performance, so we stayed and enjoyed the concert, too. We even found ourselves buying the CD on the way out!

I give you a little Undermän:

Now we move more specifically into the Finnish part of our program (can you believe that our three last persormances were Finnish?!). Ro-Pu by Circo Aereo was up first, at Usine C, and I have to say it left us wanting more…of something else, maybe. There were some very clever moments — I especially enjoyed the playing with dimensions, as they were lying on the floor "tightrope walking" on that plane while a video projected the same stunts performed upright — but I think I need some kind of danger element or feats of agility in my circus that I just didn't get here. So I won't drag this out.

A glimpse of Ro-Pu:

My favourite circus of all redeemed the Finns in my eyes. I was compelled to tweet this as we wandered through the lovely little park close to the Théâtre Outremont post-show:
I have to say from the start that the Théâtre Outremont was the most comfortable of the venues (recently renovated, we think), and what a lovely neighbourhood! I am used to seeing Outremont from the side (up Parc) or along Van Horne, and the heart of it is much nicer. Did I forget to include the name? Petit Mal by Race Horse Company. Write that down! Now!

My friend referred to this as the "Jackass" of circuses, and when they came out and carried out a number of actions that could have hurt each other it seemed to be coming true. A couple of parts of this show merit special mention. The "horse" which splits into two when the Mountie tries to jump on it, each part continuing its cavorting, is terribly funny, and I can only imagine the degree of difficulty of flipping from one mini-trampoline to another while wearing a giant horse head. The use of a whole lot of exercise balls is quite brilliant: Rauli Kosonen executes a repetitive bounce through four positions (and over and over, without losing momentum) that I found fascinating to watch and then all three performers did some horizontal travelling across multiple balls from one side of the stage to the other, and back again. Mr. Kosonen was at his best, however, on the trampoline, where he demonstrated great creativity, making a trampoline performance new for our eyes. All of that wonder and I haven't even talked about the two Elvises, the pink feathers, the tires… Just take a look at the preview and then track them down wherever they might be performing and pay what you must to see them!

It was almost a shame after my favourite circus to wrap up this year's experience with another one on the same day and one which didn't quite hold up to the afternoon delight we had with Petit Mal. Now, Odotustila by WHS at Espace Libre was not bad. It just didn't have the kick of Petit Mal. But let me be a little fairer to them than that.

Two elements to this show, or maybe I ought to say three, including the video with which both performers interact quite expertly. Ville Walo is the juggling expert, and quite an expert he is, with everything from traditional balls and pins to his shoes and a set of picture frames. There is even some clever juggling interaction with the images projected on the backdrop which must involve some rather quick moving behind the scenes for him. We were a little worried about what kind of show we would get from the magician, Kalle Hakkarainen, but it was fresh and entertaining and he, too did a lot of creative interacting with the projected videos. I have to say that video kind of takes the mystery out of magic, and I'm not sure I understood the whole train motif, but he did some amazing things with a ball that seemed to have a mind of its own that I will likely never figure out. You'll get a taste of that in the video:

So a very long post to say that I have once again enjoyed this festival immensely, but it is too late for you to go. Maybe next year you will learn from this experience and plan on attending yourself instead of waiting for my rather tardy recommendations and assessments! ;-)

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