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If TOHU has its way, circus aficionados will religiously trek to Montreal each year just as opera lovers flock to Bayreuth and theatre fanatics to New York City. Self-billed as the circus capital of the world, Montreal will host the first-ever international circus festival this summer from July 8 to 25: Montréal Complètement Cirque (CC).
The city will be invaded by over 100 Canadian and international artists for almost the entire month. TOHU, the Old Port, the Latin Quarter, Hochelaga Maisonneuve, Verdun, Sainte-Geneviéve–l’Île-Bizard, L’Usine C, Lion d’Or, Olympia and Espace Go will be bustling with circus performances, expos, workshops and other events.
“Other circus festivals are competitions, comprised of individual acts instead of complete shows like we have at CC. And there are no others in North America,” said Stéphane Lavoie, General Manager of TOHU, the organization behind CC. “CC will be a springboard for circus artists, bringing them to the North American market.”
When TOHU opened its doors six years ago, it had already aspired to start such a festival. The idea was contagious: all the other major players in the milieu excitedly offered their support. With Cirque Eloize, 7 doigts de la main, Cirque du Soleil, the National Circus School and En Piste all on board, TOHU was finally able to appeal for its share of funding from ‘the City of Festivals’—successfully; on top of other funding, the festival has secured $1,850,000 from the provincial government and $1.5-million over three years from the city of Montreal. Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay lauded the festival as the perfect fit for the city, explaining that “circus is one of the most celebrated Montreal exports on the international scene. It isn’t a coincidence that Montreal circus artists were front and centre on the 2010 World Expo’s ‘Montreal Day.’”
Montreal’s own Expo 67 has a lot to do with the city’s emergence as a world player in circus: that major event, coupled with the 1976 Olympics, pushed Montrealers to find ways to create and express their culture to the world. Venues and festivals for contemporary arts including dance, theatre and music—many of which are now major companies and events—cropped up at an amazing rate, leading to increased multidisciplinary exchanges and arts funding. Circus’s role in the lot was sealed with the arrival of the National Circus School in 1981. There is also Montreal’s mixed European-American sensibility, which fostered rapid innovations. Many Montreal circus artists studied in Europe, but just as important, a burgeoning ‘American’ street and street performance culture began to develop, greatly affecting circus trends. By 1984, the company that would become the biggest star in contemporary circus life opened its doors: Cirque du Soleil.
Jeannot Painchaud, Founder and Co-Director of Cirque Eloize and Director of the festival’s inaugurating performance, iD, believes this festival will inspire the same wave of creativity. “The spirit and goals of the festival are to bring something new, to be a junction between circus and other arts on a global scale,” said Painchaud.
Although Lavoie joked that just “to exist” was enough of a goal, he revealed similarly ambitious hopes for communal artistic celebration: “The festival is about engaging the public, the circus milieu and the business world in the arts so that everyone in Montreal can develop and enjoy them together. Our objective and challenge is that everyone participates in this festival.”