Jim Mneymneh

Cirque Éloize has no doubt secured high-ranking status among the surge of contemporary circus companies that have poured out of Montreal over the past few decades. Its signature formula for success: multidisciplinary performers who can move seamlessly through their roles as dancers, singers, and flyers at the transition of a song, coupled with a theater-like quality to the circus’s highly stylized productions. It has forged a new path in the categorization of the modern circus as physical theater, and last Wednesday’s audience of nearly equal parts adults and children underscored its multigenerational appeal.

In its latest production, Saloon, artistic director Jeannot Painchaud looked to the Wild West for raucous inspiration, casting juggling sheriffs and acrobatic bartenders against an intricate set cum aerial rig from which the performers soared and twirled, all while crooning to some of country music’s greatest hits. The expertise and dexterity of the ensemble cast was indisputable, even as they teased and taunted one another through highly precise sections of teeterboard and banquine acts.

At times, the theme was admittedly cringe inducing, a tired narrative filled with ego and archetypical gender roles that contradicted the artists’ obvious reverence for one another (watching two men carefully share one another’s weight was at times more stirring than the skills themselves). One of the most satisfying acts of the evening — Shena Tschofen adeptly manipulating the Cyr wheel in noiseless confidence — was also the most valuable teaching moment for the kids in attendance: The human spirit transcends stereotypes, and no unsavory version of our past can dilute that.


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