Montreal circus festival highlights Quebec performers in pandemic-adapted edition

For many artists, the festival represents the first time they are able to perform in front of live audiences in months.

Local companies are on display at this year's Montreal Complètement Cirque festival

Performances at this year's festival take place inside and outside, including free events along St-Denis Street. (Photo by Benoit Z. Leroux)

After being cancelled in the summer of 2020, the 12th edition of Montreal's circus festival, Montreal Complètement Cirque, is back and putting artists from Quebec in the spotlight. 

Montreal companies along with ones from Quebec City and beyond have spent the pandemic lockdown honing their skills and inventing new routines.

For many artists, the festival represents the first time they are able to perform in front of live audiences in months.

"All the different performances you'll see, a lot of them were made this year during the pandemic in residency at the TOHU. And now this is the first time all these amazing small performances will be performed for the public," said Ruth Juliet Wikler, the festival's deputy director of programming. The TOHU is a performing arts theater in Montreal.

"The TOHU opened all of its possible spaces. We worked with the National Circus School, we worked with Cirque du Soleil in their studios to create spaces for artists to create new work, even when they couldn't share it with audiences."

The festival runs from July 8 to 18 and shows are being held at the TOHU in Saint-Michel and in downtown Montreal. (Photo by Benoit Z. Leroux)

Wikler said the festival, which runs from July 8 to 18, features indoor and outdoor shows, along with free performances on St-Denis Street and touring performers who will visit various neighbourhoods across the city.

She said that this year, the festival has developed the space at its main performance space, the TOHU, located on Jarry Street in Saint-Michel.

"We pitched a big tent, we've even set up picnic areas under the trees here," she told CBC's Let's Go. "It's really a circus village."

Wikler said that companies Throw 2 Catch and Marguerite à bicyclette will be touring around and that there will be live pop-up performances each evening of the festival at the TOHU and the St-Denis Street location between Ontario and de Maisonneuve streets.

The festival's program features a number of secret location, site-specific performances outside in nature, as well as a cabaret show in downtown Montreal at the St. Jax Anglican Cathedral.

Another show, Cabaret Yam!, comes from a circus company Kalabanté Productions based in Saint-Michel. The show features music, dance and acrobatics inspired by West African rhythms.

Wikler says after months of uncertainty and cancelled events, artists are keen to get back in front of a crowd.

"They really live and breathe performance. Audiences give so much energy to performers," she said.

"Particularly for circus, where they work so hard to master these incredibly difficult skills and they really want to put it in front of your and feel your appreciation. And that beautiful exchange can only really happen when we're able to get together physically."

Quebec City based company FLIP Fabrique are excited to be back in front of a live crowd again. (STEPHANE BOURGEOIS)

Bruno Gagnon, artistic director of Quebec City-based company FLIP Fabrique, told CBC's All in a Weekend that his team are thrilled to be bringing their show Six Degrees to the festival, after touring it in Quebec last year.

"It's the first real show in six months," he said. "It has been a while, so yes they are very excited."

He said the show had to be adapted to adhere to COVID-19 rules, but the artists involved chose to see it as a positive.

"Once we get a challenge, it becomes an opportunity."

He said that it makes all the hard work worthwhile to bring smiles to audiences after an especially hard year.

"Getting to touch each other and be close and to feel a whole audience that laughs ... the contagious energy when you see a live entertainment show, this is something that we're really looking forward to."

LISTEN | FLIP Fabrique director looks ahead to this year's performance:


Marilla Steuter-Martin

Former CBC journalist

Marilla Steuter-Martin was a journalist with CBC Montreal from 2015 to 2021.

With files from CBC Radio's Let's Go and All in a Weekend


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