elo1If I somehow managed to have a regular column where I reviewed a variety of circus productions, it would absolutely be called “Cirque-L Jerk”. Since that’s not about to happen any time soon (although, if you’re a big shot editor for a magazine or newspaper who is reading this and has an opening for a circus writer I would be more than willing to devote my life to travelling to the world going to the circus) I have named this article that instead.

Certainly, Montreal would be just as good a place as any to start such a column. Poking around Wikipedia I found that Montreal is the home base for a bunch of what I have dubbed “fancy circuses”. Tohu (which is actually a school that puts on performances), Cavalia, Cirque Eloize and of course the big boys Cirque du Soleil all call Montreal their home.

I’m not going to waste too much time defining what a “fancy circus” is, but just in case you’re not aware of the concept I’ll give you a rundown. A “fancy circus” (or contemporary circus or cirque nouveau as its actually called) is like a regular circus but the costumes are fancier, the acts are more “artistic” and there’s generally a more cohesive underlying theme and visual aesthetic throughout the show. I could be wrong but I’m also pretty sure there’s less motorcycles in big steel balls zipping around too.

Cirkopolis is the first non-Cirque du Soleil contemporary circus that I’ve attended, so obviously is the basis of my comparison. I’ve seen a handful of Cirque du Soleil shows (Alegria, Saltimbanco, Totem and Varekai, maybe some others) so I had an idea of what I was in for. I will say that in terms of quality, it seems that Cirque du Soleil have been on the downswing in my eyes. The older shows in that list (Alegria and Saltimbanco) vastly outshone Varekai and honestly Totem was a huge letdown (I say this comparatively, Totem was still highly entertaining). So, maybe it was time for a change?

elo3I had seen the ads up in the metro and the look and style of the production seemed interesting and the split seconds of people flipping the air sold me on the caliber of the acrobatics. It was time to check out Cirque du Soleil’s competition. I surprised my better half with tickets to Cirkopolis (after taking her out to a delicious meal to gain extra boyfriend points) and hoped for the best.

Like most cirque nouveau shows, Cirkopolis follows a distinct theme. In this case, the whole thing takes place in some sort of industrial revolution daydream. In between the acts men and women stomp around in fedoras and trench coats, bustling back and forth in some steampunk daily grind (steam whistles, whirring gears and exposed pipes feature heavily in the background). Suddenly, amidst the bustle a flash of colour appears, a trench coat is tossed aside by one of the performers and the audience is treated to the next act. The 1920-30s costume design was also a cool change of pace from the sparkly space clowns that seem to permeate contemporary circus acts.

The framing device is effective and easy to get behind. We all work our 9to5’s and we all feel the grind of day-to-day workplace monotony. If we had it in us we’d all love to climb a Chinese pole and do a few flips or twirl around in a German Wheel with a couple of friends (or Cyr wheel for the ladies). We’re instantly sympathetic to the “clown” character who just never seems to break the cycle the way the more acrobatic workers do.

The tone of the Cirkopolis seemed less pretentious than any of the Cirque du Soleil productions I had seen. It was a lot more “fun” somehow. Not to say that the gravitas of a Cirque du Soleil performance doesn’t have its place, but sometimes we still want the circus to be fun, don’t we?

All of the acts were top notch and every single one of them had a “how the hell did they do that” element that just doesn’t make sense. The diabolo performer has me questioning everything I knew about physics and made an otherwise “low risk” circus talent still completely spellbinding. Another highlight was a contortionist routine that too place atop 5 or 6 other performers (the contortionist never touching the ground for the duration of the piece). My girlfriend gave the show high praise when she commented how dry her eyes were after spending the past two hours barely blinking out of fear of missing something.

The only piece of criticism I would give to Cirkopolis is that sometimes there’s just too much going on onstage. Some of the bigger acts have the entire cast on stage at once and it’s difficult to know where to look. I’m pretty sure I missed some fancy aerial flips by accidentally having my attention pulled towards a group of dancers. To be clear, “there’s so much cool stuff going on at once” is really not that bad of a downside.

All in all, I would definitely recommend Cirkopolis to anyone who enjoys the “fancy circus” and especially to people who are looking for a bit of a change of pace from Cirque du Soleil.

All Images from Cirque Eloize.com

Cirkopolis at Place des Arts until December 7th, touring North America until February 1st.