Montreal Complètement Cirque 2016 – Festival Roundup

For lovers of contemporary circus Montreal in July is the place to be!
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Ephemeral Architectures: Gandini Juggling 2016. Photograph by Ash. 


Montreal Complètement Cirque, the annual contemporary circus festival, took place in Montreal from 7-17th July 2016 and proved to be a 10 day immersion into some of the most diverse and interesting international contemporary circus around. With performances from companies from France, Britain, Switzerland, the United States, Canada and Australia taking place in venues right across Montreal – plus an extensive parallel outdoor program of free circus performance and workshops taking place in the streets of Montreal – the festival took over the city, filling it with circus.

Three off-festival events complemented the Montreal Complètement Cirque program – Luzia the new showfrom Cirque Du Soleil; MICC (the Montreal Market of International Contemporary Circus) which brought together producers and presenters of contemporary circus, and showcased new circus work from circus companies including Montreal’s 7 doigts de la main; and Encounters with Circus and its Others from the Montreal Working Group on Circus, a conference of academic research on circus with circus studies scholars coming to present new circus studies scholarship from as far afield as Czechoslovakia, Australia, Sweden, the USA and Canada.

This combined program of events in conjunction with the Montreal Complètement Cirque program itself created a stimulating, immersive hub for contemporary circus artists, presenters, producers, circus studies scholars and circus lovers and the general public alike.

Festival highlights included Ephemeral Architectures from Great Britain – an extraordinary collaboration between Gandini Juggling and The Royal National Ballet. Featuring 4 ballet dancers and 4 jugglers working together with mathematical precision, Ephemeral Architectures took over a year of work in the studio to bring to fruition.

A performance of rare austerity and rigour, Ephemeral Architectures features an aesthetic that could only be described as a form of high minimalism in which purity of line and mathematical patterning are paramount. Drawing on a reduced colour palette of grey costumes – with white, yellow and green juggling balls – the dancers move into the virtual spaces created by the jugglers as the juggling balls delineate and carve out ‘ephemeral architectures.’ Much of the soundscape is created by the jugglers and dancers speaking aloud and reciting the rhythms and patterns of the juggling sequences. Extraordinary, rigorous and strangely hypnotic work.


 Smoke and Mirrors photograph by Kate Russell

Smoke and Mirrors from The Richochet Project from the USA, begins with a voiceover in darkness challenging the adage that ‘all we have to fear is fear itself’ pointing to political and social events taking place currently that are worthy of inspiring real fear. Two performers enter wearing work clothes, their bodies are contorted and misshapen both by fear and social pressures. As the performers gradually start to remove their work clothes, their bodies become less contorted by emotional and physical stresses and as they reach almost total nudity their physicality changes until, in an acrobatic aerial partnered section on rope, their movement embodies clarity of line, aesthetic fluidity and grace, while a voiceover speaks about the essential importance of kindness.

The progression in the physicality and costuming creates a dramaturgical sweep of simplicity and clarity that is surprisingly moving. Smoke and Mirrors is circus with a strong, social and political message.


Pour le meilleur Cirque Aital photograph by Raynaud de Lage.


 Pour le meilleur et pour le pire from Cirque Aital from France starts as the two performers and their dog drive their little red car into the ring of the circus tent, and breaks into some engaging Jacques Tatiesque clowning as the couple try to tune their radio only to have the station change every time they open or shut the car doors, or change the angle of the car seats. With their road trip standing as a metaphor for the couple’s relationship, the performance finishes with a sensuous acrobatic duo lit only by the headlights of the car as they roll on the ground in the dust. Pour le meilleur et pour le pire is funny and sexy!

Fracas, an adventurous original creation for the Montreal Complètement Cirque Festival 2016, took place as part of the street circus program. The shamanic figure of a violinist moving amongst the thousands of assembled spectators summoned the hundreds of performers towards him through the crowd. Fracas featured young talent from Montreal’s École National du Cirque performing breathtaking acrobatic casting, synchronized silks routines and trapeze partnering, spot lit against the night sky.

Luzia, the new show from Quebec’s Cirque du Soleil, is based on the theme of Mexico and the show focuses on the combination of water and light. A spectacular curtain of water is engineered to fall in different densities to create images of flowers and plants floating in mid-air. Many of the circus acts are performed in water including a stunning straps acts which rises 12 metres above the stage and spins and turns in falling water before plunging down into a circular pool of water inset into the stage beneath. Exhilarating and spectacular, Luzia shows Cirque du Soleil in top form.



 The Elephant in the Room photograph by Francesca Torracchi.

The Elephant in the Room from Cirque Le Roux from France is astonishing. The partnering has to be seen to be believed as the level of physical attainment is so extraordinary. This performance set in the a black and white world of a 1930s film, moves into the realm of the surreal, claiming the world of dark unspoken desires and erotic fantasy as the natural territory for the heightened physicality of circus. Innovative and ground breaking this performance claims new ground for circus arts.

 A wonderful, diverse 10 days of total circus immersion – Montreal Cirque Festival  is not to be missed!



 Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Montreal Complètement Cirque Festival

7-17 July 2016 Montreal Canada.

Katie Lavers
About the Author
Dr. Katie Lavers is a writer, director, producer and researcher based in Sydney.