Last night was the opening show of the fourth annual Montréal Complètement Cirque Festival and the inaugural performance of the cabaret Music-Hall de la Baronne by Cirque Éloize, which is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. And what better venue for this than the Olympia theatre.
For those expecting mind-blowing circus acts, this was not the show. Instead, it was more of a sexy acrobatic cabaret hosted by Baroness Catherine Pinard, who had a wonderful diva stage presence in spite of taking too much of the spotlight.
Although there was a cabaret venue, the show felt more like vaudeville with some initial tinny piano music and a couple of performers trying too hard to please. In fact, the only thing missing was a hook to pull the tap dancer off the stage. It would appear that the early tunes and first few acts were meant to drive home the point that this was not circus, but cabaret, a genre that many of us are unfamiliar with. Once you get your head around this, the silly jokes and considerable theatrics have a wonderful retro feel to them.
The music and performance quality later improves considerably.
The show really got started with the Garbo-esque Christine Gruber who performed a sensuous routine on the rings while smoking a cigarette. But the most stunning acrobatics were performed by couples on the trapeze and in the final act. Their movement was fluid, unpredictable and beautiful. There were also some very impressive solos to accompany the acts. A moving rendition of “Summertime” immediately comes to mind.
Overall, the attention to detail was lacking. The circular stage seemed too small to accommodate the performers. Frédéric Lemieux-Cormier’s number on the German wheel moved dangerously close to the edge and had front-row spectators leaning back nervously in their seats.
There was also a puzzling lion tamer routine that poked fun at the intergenerational differences between babyboomers and les carrés rouges. This did little to enhance the show, even though political satire was often part of cabaret acts.
For a red-carpet affair, Music-Hall de la Baronne was not quite ready. However, this could change in the coming weeks when some of the kinks are ironed out, and some of the secondary acts, namely the Baroness and the tipsy waitress, are shortened.
In spite of its shortcomings, Music-Hall de la Baronne is an exciting undertaking and a wonderful opportunity to see the beginning of what could be a cabaret revival. Cirque Éloize will undoubtedly rise to that challenge.
Le Music-Hall de la Baronne, Cirque Éloize, Montréal Complètement Cirque Festival
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Heather Leighton is the Rover Arts books editor. She also blogs at the Unexpected Twists and Turns.