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CINARS Montreal

I spent the past few days in Montreal at an international convening called CINARS. It’s in its 14th edition. This year’s main event included 27 productions from 13 countries as well as 50 CINARS PLUS projects (like a parallel “fringe” festival) totaling over 500 performances populated by 400 artists and a community of over 1,000 international presenters, producers, and representatives. I attended at the invitation of the festival, the Quebec delegation, and the government of Australia to whom I am eternally grateful for covering my transportation, registration, and hotel costs.

One of the innovations of this festival is daily, two-hour excerpts of music, dance, and multi-arts presentations where you can sample the work of a variety of groups. So, for me, it was an efficient way to spend four days and become familiar with the distinctive vocabulary of nearly 20 artists. I was also able to attend works in progress programmed to happen at the same time but not sufficiently formed to be a part of the festival. It was a rich experience, but two works stand out.

The first is a variation on the well-known legend of Beauty and the Beast by a company called Lemieux Pilon 4D Art. Founded in 1983, Montreal-based LEMIEUX PILON 4D ART is a multi-disciplinary company with more than 30 original productions to its credit. Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, the driving artistic forces of the company, masterfully integrate theatre, film, dance, poetry, visual arts, music and sound into their productions, resulting in rich, immersive storytelling that both delight and amaze audiences. They are perhaps most commonly known for creating Cirque du Soleil’s DELIRIUM.

I met Michel and Victor on a previous trip to Montreal and have always been fascinated by the integrity and originality of their work. Rather than using technology to “show off” they use it to penetrate the heart of a story. It’s all the more impressive because these artists are celebrated innovators in the application of technology and live performance. The tendency to “wow” audiences with their newest applications must be hard to resist. But resist they do. And the results are deeply felt. These artists really DO invade your dreams.

They are working on an interpretation of Beauty and the Beast that opens in January and may be available in the winter/spring of 2012 for our second season of ArtsEmerson. One of the pleasures of this job is the chance to catch a glimpse of works in progress and Michel and Victor were generous enough to let me attend a rehearsal and witness some of the visual life of the piece. I can’t wait to see the results when it all comes together in late January.

Late January also coincides with the American Premiere of another marvelous group from Montreal, Seven Fingers’ production of PSY. Seven Fingers combine circus virtuosity with the lyricism and grace of modern dance. And they find a personal journey to tie it all together. PSY is about identifying and overcoming phobias. You can imagine how such a concept can result in a story of movement and music that is quite special. I saw it when it opened in Montreal last February and again in London in the West End in May. Boston has never seen their work and I’m thrilled to be able to bring them to ArtsEmerson.

One of the two-hour excerpts at CINARS was a group of circus/movement companies- from Austrailia, Sweeden and Canada. The vast auditorium at the Place des Artes was filled with people visiting CINARS as well as the general public. I arrived early because I wanted to get a good seat close to the stage. The ushers were admitting people to the rear of the orchestra and the balcony, but not to the front and center. I flashed my CINARS identifying badge and the usher kindly let me take a seat up front. For a few minutes I was a lone figure surrounded by empty seats and then all of the sudden hundreds of young people were distinctly directed to fill in the front rows. As it turns out, these were all performers in training at the Canadian National Circus School for whom the seats were specially set aside. I’ve written in a previous blog about a special district in Montreal set aside for the headquarters of Cirque du Soleil, the National Circus School, and Circus/Movement performance center. Experiencing the four excerpted projects in the midst of these young people who are devoting their lives to this work was needless to say a rare experience and a treat. All of the groups performing were talented. Three attempted to integrate humor, one successfully. The fourth focused exclusively on movement. I could experience each project vicariously through the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) of the young performers around me. Two of the four received a standing ovation with elements in each attended by gasps and spontaneous applause.

Afterwards I asked five students sitting near me if they knew of Seven Fingers and PSY. They nodded as if I had asked them if they could speak French. In unison they spoke simultaneously and enthusiastically (but in a polite tone so as not to cast aspersions on the four groups we had just witnessed together) indicating that in all their studies and time spent seeing work this was the group they respected the most. Seven Fingers smartly programmed PSY to coincide with the CINARS conference. As is usually the case in events such as these, a buzz begins to form around certain works and after two days PSY was being singled out as the MUST SEE production. I was thrilled and hope you will be too when PSY opens for just one week later in January. Click here to check out a sample of their work, or here to learn more about them.

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