The question of iDentity – interview with the director of Cirque Éloize
Acrobatics, theater, dance – Cirque Éloize presents a mixture of all these elements. This time, the troupe will visit Hungary with their iD show on April 22-23 at Budapest Aréna. We asked founder and director Jeannot Painchaud about the past, the future and what goes on behind the scenes.
How did the troupe start? Can you tell us about the early years?
I discovered the National Circus School in Montreal just after seeing the very first representation of Cirque du Soleil in Gaspé (Québec). I fell in love with the discipline and started circus as a hobby. Eventually, I became a circus artist. My goal was to travel the world through my art; and that’s exactly what I did! As an artist, I worked with different circus companies (including Cirque du Soleil), and I also worked by myself as a street performer.
Then a couple years later, a couple of friends (who grew up with me on Magdalen Islands) and I decided to create our own company. We created our first show at the National Circus School. Back in the days, the National Circus School was located in Gare Dalhousie… which became our home in 2003 when the school moved. The rest is history! We created the first show in 1993, so over the past 20 years we’ve been travelling the world, realising our dream of living through our art. To date, 10 shows and 1300 events have taken place.
In contrast to Cirque de Soleil, your shows are based on ordinary everyday elements (such as bicycles, jump ropes, skates or break dancing) and situations. Dynamism and atmosphere seem to be key factors in your performances, besides the setting and costumes. What do you think, is this dynamism and atmosphere the future of circus productions?
The circus evolved a lot since 25 years. Cirque du Soleil was the first to do what we call now contemporary circus, and was the first major success internationally with it. They reinvented the way of using other art forms with acrobatics, to create a totally new way of doing circus.
Cirque Éloize has however developed its own identity, a certain way of being on stage, a new way for artists to become actors and dancers, as well as acrobats. There are lot of different companies and circus schools around the world, but we are probably one of the very first circuses to really have concentrated our shows on theater stages instead of big tops. We’ve been strictly touring in theaters for 20 years, so it was always a big part of our own identity since the beginning. It allows us to be closer to the public!
We also define our identity by the poetry in our shows, the way we mix different art forms and how we also work with creators from different artistic areas, such as dance and theater.
Many people have one thing on their mind, which is how to become a member in your troupe. Can you tell us about this in detail?
With our background, we do know a lot of performers. However, we hold auditions every time we create a new show, because we always find new diamonds during the auditions!
In the end, we not only look for the very best performers, but also for artists that can work in a spirit of community, and that are ready to join a clan, a family.
Is improvisation allowed to some extent during your performances, or is every single move choreographed in advance?
Every single move is choreographed. During the creation process, we do improvisation sessions in order to find great moves and great ideas but during the show it becomes more complicated to mix the circus, the dance and all the elements of lighting and projections so everthing needs to be sharp and organized. There’s always a little improvisation during the show when we have someone from the audience and the artist on the bike plays with the public, he needs to adapt his act a little each time. Live show is very much ”alive”. Two shows are never exactly alike!
How do you plan your repertoire? What inspires you when you develop a new number? Are there any specific places you get ideas from?
All this, it comes from different places simultaneously. For sure there’s always something you want to share with the public, the question of the iDentity in this case was the centre of the reflection… how you fight to be yourself in the complexity of an urban world.
Of course I get inspired by different things, movies, books and pretty much everywhere. But the music, in this case, was my first inspiration. Because in music, lie 3 essential elements: rhythm, melody and emotions.
We could see your members with special acrobatic elements turning up on the street, the subway, and so on, in a number of promotional videos. The crowd’s reaction was interesting too. What is your goal with all this?
For the people who want to know what we are doing, to see what kind of show iD is and that it takes its inspiration from the street. Also, performing in the real world is interesting because it really shows where the inspiration originally came from.
One of the distinctive elements of our shows is that there’s a proximity with the audience…
One of our objectives is to create a closer or more intimate encounter with the audience by further developing on the theatrical mechanisms and therefore offering a more theatrical experience.
Audiences can recognize the artists and see their personalities through our productions. We hope to share this with people and the different places that we travel to with the show. The show is urban, dynamic, at the heart of a city… so any chance we get, the performers like to get out there and feel the heart of the city.
Do you plan to make a longer movie or video series from these videos?
We’ve given this some thought for all the reasons I’ve explained before. Time will tell!
What are your plans for the coming years? Would you like to perform in extreme locations, for instance?
As artistic director I’m always interested to further explore the practice of our art form and that also includes different locations. At Cirque Éloize we do a lot of special events, it allows us to experiment. These are amazing labs for creativity.
How important is it for the members to train themselves individually, or do you put more of an emphasis on team-work?
Both are very important. Individually, each artist needs to train every day to maintain the quality of the show, and we need a group training as well, so there are specific group sessions throughout the tour. A touring show easily becomes like a family. Since it’s a relatively small group (14 performers and 7 crew members), they are bonded by a strong “family-like” spirit.
The phenomenon of members building solo careers or coming from different troupes can be often observed in other circus troupes. How does this prevail in Cirque Éloize? To what extent do the members have a chance to perform in other places? Is there any cooperation with other troupes?
We are working with very talented artists. When they are hired for a touring show, they work exclusively for us, because the show is touring full time.
Before a performance do you take into account the given country’s cultural traits, music or social milieu?
The show stays the same everywhere.
What is your opinion on Hungarian circus traditions and acrobats?
I had the chance when I was an artist fifteen years ago to work with Hungarian acrobats on a cabaret in Germany, and I found them really strong and disciplined. There’s a big tradition of circus there and I have a big respect for that of course. Since 30 years the way we have been developing the circus is quite different because we really use acrobatics as only one of the elements of the show, we use theater and dance as well, in order to do a complete scenario. So it’s quite different, but our anchors are in traditional circus, and that is why I have a big respect for Hungarian circus traditions. I know now much work is involved and how hard you need to train to reach this level of acrobatics.