2012 Research & Events

Workshop, 21-22 September 2012
The State of Circus Research in Québec

Workshop session on the Models and Conditions of Possibility

  • Montreal, at Concordia University, in collaboration with the National Circus School of Montreal, McGill University, and la TOHU.
  • Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada through its Aid to Research Workshops and Conferences program
  • Organized by Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia) with Erin Hurley (McGill)
  • Additional organizing committee members: Patrice Aubertin (National Circus School of Montreal), Norma Rantisi (Concordia), Charles Batson (Union College), Anna-Karyna Barlati (National Circus School).



Academic papers and industry presentations are by invitation only, but it is possible to register to attend some or all of the talks, panels, and exchanges. Please write to Geneviève Robichaud and she will vet your participation with the Workshop organizers. The nature of this SSHRC-funded workshop is to allow researchers to opportunity to exchange and discuss ongoing research.

 Public event

Keynote talk by Pascal Jacob, « Le Québec sur la planète cirque », McGill University, Friday 21 September 2012.


Day 1 at Concordia University

Friday 21 September 2012.

Room: LB 619, 6th floor, Department of French Studies, 

McConnell/Library Building, 1400 de Maisonneuve West.



Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia) and Erin Hurley (McGill)

9:15 – 10:30am

History, Prehistory and the Quebec Circus Archives.

Chair: Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia)

  • “Is Quebec’s Circus a Foreign Variety?” Julie Boudreault (Independent Researcher) In French.
  • “Discovering the Living Memory of Circus Arts: Circus Heritage Issues Then and Now,” Anna-Karyna Barlati (National Circus School of Montreal) In French.

10:30 – 10:45am


10:45 – 12:00pm

Aesthetics / Dramaturgy

Chair: Erin Hurley (McGill)

  • “Multiplying Testimonials, Authenticity and Individualization in Les 7 Doigts de la Main’s Circuit Shows,” Charles Batson (Union College, USA)
  • “The Minimalist Vein in Contemporary French Circus: The Creative Process in the Works of Adrien Mondot, Aurélien Bory and Yohann Bourgeois,” Ariane Martinez (Grenoble, France) In French.
  • “The Spectral Body: The Horse in Contemporary Circus,” Katie Lavers (Edith Cohen University-Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts)

12:00 – 1:00pm


1:00 – 2:30pm

The Economics and Branding of Circus

Chair: Karen Fricker (University of London)

  • “École Nationale de Cirque as a Network Intermediary for the Quebec Contemporary Circus,” Norma Rantisi (Concordia) and Deborah Leslie (Toronto)
  • “Circus and the City Brand,” Susan Bennett (Calgary)
  • “The Impacts of Cultural Policies on the Development of Circus Trends and their Circulation,” Yohann Floch (Hors les murs, France) In French.

2:30 – 2:45pm


2:45 – 4:15pm

Of Social and Engaged Circus 

Chair: Patrice Aubertin (National Circus School)

  • “Singular Bodies, Collective Dreams and the Making of a Mass Movement: How Street Circus Helped Create the ‘Maple Spring,’” Jennifer Spiegel (McGill)
  • “The Institutionalization of the Circus in France Since the 1980s or the Creation of a New Myth: Circus as Public-Arts Service,” Bérénice Hamidi Kim (Lyon 2) In French.
  • “Decision Training Research at the National Circus School of Montreal – an International Research Initiative,” Jon Burtt (Edith Cohen University-Western Australian School of Performing Arts)

4:15 – 4:45pm

Break and Move to McGill University: Stewart Biology Building, Room S 3/3, (1205 Docteur Penfield St.) for Keynote Speaker Event.

5:00 – 6:00pm

Public Keynote Address 

Leacock Building, McGill University

  • “Quebec’s Place on Planet Circus,” Pascal Jacob. In French.

Presented by Concordia University, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, the Québec Studies Program at McGill, and the Montreal Working Group for Circus Research.


Supper for workshop participants.

Day 2 at National Circus School and la TOHU

Saturday 22 September 2012 

National Circus School, 8181 2nd Avenue, Lobby / Cafeteria 


Welcome (National Circus School, 8181 2nd Avenue, Lobby / Cafeteria)

9:30 – 10:30am

Creation Studio (4th floor)

  • Presentation of the National Circus School, Marc Lalonde
  • A Visit of the National Circus School: Through the Eyes of the Architect, Frederic Dubé (TBC)

10:45 – 12:00pm

Creation Studio (4th floor)

  • Presentation by En Piste Members and an Overview of the State of Play of Circus Arts in Quebec, Suzanne Samson (En Piste)
  • Roundtable: What Place, What Identity for Young Circus Companies?

Joanie Leroux-Coté (7 Fingers) will lead a frank and focused discussion on the reality of being an emerging practitioner in the Quebec circus community, both here and abroad. The discussion topics will be broad, ranging from existential to material concerns, such as: “How can we forge a distinct identity in an environment that is dominated by (at least) three major players?” Issues that may arise … “Does circus training prepare its artists for the realities of production, grant applications and overall professionalization of the circus métier?” “Is such a preparation necessary?” “What are Quebec circus artists’ most prominent features?” “How do you distinguish yourself from others?” “Amongst Quebecers, what further distinctions can be made?” “Can the circus exist without the support of three large institutional circuses?” “Can we coexist without rubbing elbows with one another?” “Finally, what is your wildest dream?” “What are the constraints that hinder you?” “How do you rid yourself of these constraints?”

12:10 – 12:30pm

Excerpts from the National Circus School’s Research-Creation Workshops 

Creation Studio (4th floor)

Move to la TOHU, 2345, Jarry Street East, Lobby for Lunch

12:45 – 14:15pm

Lunch, Summary and Conclusion of the Conference

TOHU Lobby

14:30 – 15:30pm

Presentation and Visit of la TOHU, Nadia Drouin (TOHU)

  • “The Gaze of the Artist on the Acrobat,” Presentation and Visit of Permanent Exhibit, with its curator Pascal Jacob.

November 10th 2012
Québec Circus North/South

Two panels at the American Council for Québec Studies in Sarasota, Florida

Questions and context framing our initial call for papers

Historically, the American circus established touring networks throughout North America, including Québec. Québec also had its own home-grown American-styled touring circuses. From the 1980s onward, Cirque du Soleil contributed to redefining Québec’s contribution to the circus world with its hybrid “high” artistic and highly branded shows. Has Cirque’s success, internationally, and most notably in the U.S., imposed a corporate model extolling infinite financial possibilities to emulate or to resist? Hailed as “new circus,” claiming to reinvent circus, Cirque du Soleil very quickly positioned itself as a distinctive, artistic, luxury experience accessible to all. It would find its ideal fit with Steve Wynn’s repositioning of Las Vegas in the early nineties.

Cirque Éloize and Les 7 doigts de la main have followed suit with productions steeped in the traditions of dance and theatre, eliminating the performing animals, rather focusing on outstanding technical ability, yet allowing their performers’ individuality to influence and shape their shows. Les 7 doigts current outstanding success with Traces running off-Broadway for over a year has achieved, with New York’s discerning audiences, what Cirque never quite could, in spite of its repeated efforts (and position as an actual player in American pop culture), a genuine following and sense of appropriation of the production.

Concretely, what has performing in the U.S. contributed to the circus arts in Québec, beyond the obvious financial benefits of a very large market? Might Cirque du Soleil, Les 7 doigts, and other Québec circus artists and designers influenced contemporary circus practices in the U.S.? This may be through aesthetic choices, circus-industry safety benchmarks, current circus hiring practices, the types of acts now sought out, marketing strategies, or administrative “best practices.”

What are some of the failed or not-so-successful experiences (some financial, others artistic) of Québec circus in the U.S.? Early experiences of Cavalia in Las Vegas, Banana Schpiel in Chicago and New York, Viva Elvis! closing this Fall in Las Vegas, and the first version of Criss Angel Believe in Las Vegas, or even the Cirque Super Bowl show? What can be learned from these?

Has there been a notable decline in traditional American circus shows in Québec since it has developed its own inter-arts circus culture? Does Québec invite its American counterparts to produce their shows or does it rather assimilate the performers and designers into its own multinational productions?

What other streams of influence, unidirectional or reciprocal, can be examined in current Québec-US circus relations?

Circus/Cirque, North/South circulations and reciprocal influence

Chair: Erin Hurley (McGill)

  • Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia, Montreal)
    “Cirque du Soleil as circus reinvented or brand-for-hire?”
  • Charles Batson (Union College, Schenectady NY)
    “Pink, Cirque, and the Québécisation de l’industrie”
  • Katie Lavers (Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts)
    “Excising P.T. Barnum: Quebec Circus from Cirque du Soleil to Cavalia”

Training from the ground up : circus training and inter-industry linkages 

Chair: Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia)

  • Patrice Aubertin (National Circus School of Montreal)
    « L’École nationale de cirque de Montréal, possible influence sur la communauté circassienne américaine »
  • Jon Burtt (Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts and National Circus School of Montreal)
    “Research into The Development of Expertise in the Circus Arts in Quebec. Case studies at the National Circus School”
  • Norma Rantisi (Concordia, Montreal) and Deborah Leslie (University of Toronto)
    “The Making of a Montreal Circus: The role of inter-industry linkages in the formation of a hybrid art form”

Description of Event

Following his visit to Montreal during the second annual festival of circus arts, Montréal Complètement Cirque, English circus critic John Allingsworth published a lengthy analysis of the Montreal circus “scene.” He characterizes it as parochial, as unduly if perhaps inevitably dominated by the Cirque du Soleil — both in terms of its economic /employment clout and its influence on the local circus imaginary –, as (and hence over-confident), and as needing to invest more in the art of circus. We take Allingsworth’s critique as a challenge; our bilingual research workshop on contemporary circus in Quebec will address itself to the issues he raises by 1) cementing links between university researchers and circus educators and archivists; 2) sharing research on new Quebec circus beyond “the big three” (namely, the Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Éloize, and Les sept doigts de la main); and 3) investigating models outside of Quebec that create conditions of possibility in which a diversity of new circus practices can flourish. The focused nature of the planned discussion and the mix of participants (scholars, librarians, artists, and cultural programmers) would be better supported — and likely lead to more concrete and transferable outcomes — in a workshop environment than in a conference.

Our proposed workshop extends and advances research that the organizers have been conducting as a group for the past year, and will articulate it with circus research from France, where it is somewhat more established and more institutionally supported than in Canada. In September 2010, Louis Patrick Leroux formed the “Montreal Working Group on Cirque/Circus” with the support of the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Society and Culture at Concordia University. At regular, bi-monthly meetings, our team of academics in theatre, geography, sociology, and medicine shared their current research into circus in Quebec, notably on Cirque du Soleil as both an aesthetic authority and as a major cultural force promoting Québécois creativity and commercial innovation. Last year culminated in a study-day held at the École nationale du cirque / National Circus School where circus professionals from the milieu and administrators and educators from the school talked about circus training outside the traditional athletic or family-based models. Together we explored the question of active transmission of the circus arts and the influence of the Cirque du Soleil specifically to a second and third generation of Quebec-based circus artists and companies (Cirque Éloize, Les sept doigts de la main, Cirque Akya, Angela Laurier, Cirque Alfonse, L’Impro cirque, etc.). This year (2011-2012) we will follow the most promising avenue of research at the end of last year, namely the widening field of contemporary circus practice in Quebec and its interconnections (aesthetic, economic, pedagogical, and historical) with French cirque contemporain.

These questions are pressing and timely. Quebec is widely regarded as a circus capital, largely on the basis of the international reputation of the “big three” Montreal-based circuses. The École nationale du cirque plus the new Montreal complètement cirque festival reinforce that impression, on which successive Quebec governments have capitalised by featuring circus in tourism and publicity campaigns. The circus arts receive abundant, laudatory coverage in local media, are taught at the primary and secondary level in some public schools; and the history and aesthetics of circus form part of the Ministry of Education mandated primary school curriculum. However, many in the milieu are concerned that our understanding, financing, and support of the circus arts in Quebec is so dominated by the “big three” that smaller, innovative, second and third generation circus acts and troupes encounter undue difficulties in start-up and in getting the attention they deserve. With them, we ask, “How might the dynamism and diversity of contemporary circus in Quebec be encouraged and supported?” Consistent with our ongoing research programs, we also ask, “What role does circus play in the cultural imaginary of Quebec? What are its key aesthetic elements? What is its artistic future?” To address these questions, we propose an “état des lieux” of Quebec circus bringing together current information on Quebec circus arts, troupes, training programs, touring circuits, impacts, and aesthetics. From this snapshot of the current scene, we will turn to past circus traditions with an eye to pinpointing enabling conditions of possibility that might inform the current situation. Then, we will discuss local needs, as perceived by industry professionals, and pursue other models of circus arts development, with a particular focus on France, with which Quebec circus already has important links and which has a highly developed infrastructure and training system for circus arts.

The research workshop builds on extant scholarly literature on Quebec circus, much of which has been published by the group members, and most of which focuses on the “big three”. Despite Quebec’s status as a circus centre and the Cirque du Soleil’s reputation for having changed the nature and structure of circus, emergent circus forms and artists in Quebec are under-studied. They are of interest not only for their innovative, often inter-medial approaches to the circus, but also for their educational formation and their professional trajectories; many are ÉNC graduates, many more are “graduates” of the Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Éloize or Les sept doigts, a number are dancers, actors, or athletes, and all are trying to make their mark. In this respect, our research intersects with scholarship in France by historian Pascal Jacob and circus dramaturg Arianne Martinez, as well as with efforts at making more visible contemporary circus, as represented by Panorama contemporain des arts du cirque, published by Hors les murs, the French clearinghouse of circus and street arts, and Sideshow circus magazine in the UK.

Out of the research workshop, we will generate the following materials and outcomes: a collection of essays with an academic press or a special issue in the bilingual, interdisciplinary journal Québec Studies and a concrete collaboration between the burgeoning working group on circus research, National Circus School, and stakeholders of the Québec circus scene.