5 Things Learned at Montreal’s Circus Market

A few months ago an invitation dropped into my inbox:

“Cher Monsieur Berry,

Du 8 au 11 juillet, le Marché International de Cirque Contemporain va réunir des artistes Canadiens et Internationaux, des programmateurs et des professionnels des arts du cirque. Voulez-vous venir?”

Montreal’s skyline at sundown.

I’d been invited to be a guest of the International Market of Contemporary Circus (MICC), part of the 2019 edition of the Montréal Complètement Cirque festival. Being Artistic Director of a circus-led venue I had long admired the festival, its host venue and driving force TOHU, and the Montreal scene in general, but somehow had never made it across the pond. This was their 10th anniversary festival – it would have been rude to refuse, and I felt honoured to have been invited. So alongside four other UK friends and partners (MimbreAssemblyUnderbellyRoundhouse) and one of our own artists, Laura Murphy, I made my way to the land of Soleil, Leonard Cohen and poutine. Here are my five takeaways from the brilliant festival:

1. It’s a circus-crazy city

Montreal café culture.

Not just within the festival: it’s in their blood. Out on the streets, in spaces where you didn’t know there were spaces, in theatres, schools, playgrounds, on top of buildings, in corridors…it’s everywhere. The taxi drivers know all about the circus culture, and over a café au lait and croissant one morning, an old bohemian fellow in a beatnik beret advised me where to go to see some ‘secret’ performances, with a sly wink. You can’t escape it.

2. There is no single aesthetic to Quebec circus

OK, so there’s definitely a trickle-down effect from Cirque de Soleil and The 7 Fingers, and many local artists have performed with ‘the big two’, but no pieces I saw felt even remotely similar, from the experimental fourth-wall breaking of L’Autre Cirque, to 15 of us crammed into an old-style downtown apartment to witness the claustrophobic yet beguiling duet performance ‘Se Prendre’, exploring love and intimacy. Montreal circus transcends genres, and pushes the limits.

3. MICC understands audiences and curation

Everyone, and I mean everyone, is considered in the International Market of Contemporary Circus, the mini conference/festival embedded in Montréal Complètement Cirque Festival. Well-organised, meticulously curated professional talks, seminars, artist speed-dates and pitches (25 in one day alone) and lunches for us 200 or so ‘pros’. Countless outdoor street and stage spectacles and workshops for the locals, young and old, free, diverse, accessible, on-point. Nightly larger-scale work from the cream of domestic and international artists at TOHU and beyond. As festivals go, MICC is just perfect, and for new programmer Ruth Wikler’s maiden voyage, she and her team pretty much nailed it. And, talking of her team…

4. MICC is female-led and as international as they come

At the launch Ruth asked her six-strong all-female team to introduce themselves. They came from all over the world, a symbol of diversity, global unification and strong female leadership – inspiring to see, and one of the best festival teams I have ever encountered, full of support, composure and good humour. Great leadership and communication reaps the rewards of a brilliant working collective.

The International Market of Contemporary Circus (MICC) in progress.

5. MICC creates a genuine community

Nowhere else have I been so inspired to walk up to strangers, introduce myself and begin a conversation. Often at festivals we programmers (especially the English) tend not be so forthcoming and maybe shy away a little until forced. Here, there were daily multiple opportunities created within social settings where you just found yourself unable to NOT join in, be it 2am in the morning at the festival bar, or over lunch, or after a show. The best moments for me were in the shuttle bus, squeezed in with an American theatre or French festival! I came away with new friends, new partnerships, a couple of residencies offered and the realisation that Quebec circus may start to figure much more prominently in the Jacksons Lane programme in the future.

Thank you Montréal Complètement Cirque, catch you for the 11th edition in 2020! Can’t wait…

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