Get caught in the act
Cirque Eloize is breaking the mould of the traditional circus with its street acrobatics. Matthew McCreary delves into the weird and wonderful world of Cirque de Soleil’s dark cousin
The spectacle and splendour of the circus are memories most of us share from childhood, but recent years have seen a new manner of the genre emerge. While the sleek and stylish routines of the Cirque du Soleil have long captured the imagination of audiences worldwide, their fellow French Canadian performers Cirque Eloize will be bringing their own, more gritty style of acrobatics to festival goers this year.
The company was founded in 1993 by a group of young circus school graduates, including Jeannot Painchaud.
“At first we were seven artists, all from a little island in St Lawrence Bay known for its lobster,” says Jeannot, with the distinctive twang of a French Canadian accent.
“We were at circus school in Montreal and everything we are is a pure product of that.
“We have no traditional circus here, we started with nothing. It came from the street shows and theatre groups who wanted to do something different. It broke the barriers and let everybody do something with acrobatics.
“We really gave a big place to acrobatics. In some circuses you don’t see much of that, more theatre. But our choice was to keep acrobatics at the heart of the work.”
And acrobatics will very much be the centrepiece of their latest production, iD, which will be staged in the aptly-colourful surroundings of the Grand Opera House.
“It’s a show I had in mind for a while,” says Jeannot.
“I wanted to create a show with a mix of European dances and circus.
“I found it interesting from a choreography point of view to mix these to create something different.”
Set in an urban environment, where the performers come to display their moves in a shared space, the show has a decidedly modern feel, with hip-hop and breakdancing.
“It’s filled with raw energy,” says Jeannot.
“The cast is pretty young and the idea was to express that fight for identity when you are young and want to prove who you are to your peers, and to yourself.”
The cast comprises of 14 performers from seven countries and from a variety of performing backgrounds, including circus, street theatre and dance. It is a level of performance which requires superb fitness.
“It’s a very physical show, one of the most physical we have ever created,” says Jeannot.
“It’s very demanding for the artists, so we choose people that want to work hard with their body.
“They are amazing. I used to be an artist myself but I could never have done as much as them. As well as the acrobatics, they dance throughout the whole show. It’s very energetic.
“It’s almost like being an Olympic athlete, they have to train seriously every day.”
So tight are the routines, that performers seldom get the chance to improvise much during the show.
“There are little moments here and there, but it’s more in the interpretation, the character will evolve over time,” says Jeannot.
“There are so many moves that if you don’t know exactly what you are supposed to do, you could cause an accident.”
And on that subject, are there ever any injuries on stage?
“Yes, but fortunately nothing very serious,” says Jeannot.
“We have little injuries here and there, back problems, an ankle, a guy fell and scratched his head once.
“But that’s the life of a circus performer!”
- Cirque Eloize, October 19-22, 7.30pm, Grand Opera House