The Montreal Working Group on Cirque/Circus began in 2010 as an informal gathering of academics interested in the aesthetics, economics, and ethics of Cirque du Soleil as both a force in renewing circus arts in Québec and as a major cultural force promoting Québécois creativity and commercial innovation. Louis Patrick Leroux, Erin Hurley, and Karen Fricker, after having worked on a special issue on Le Québec à Las Vegas for the scholarly journal L'Annuaire théâtral, combined forces with economic geographers Norma Rantisi and Deborah Leslie who were already engaged in Cirque-related research. Colleagues from National Circus School were soon invited to participate in the ongoing discussion. The first year's activities were focused around a model of seminar presentations of ongoing research where colleagues were encouraged to openly discuss issues, challenges, and outcomes.

By the end of the first year, and into the second year, the Working Group began to widen its scope onto circus practices in Québec and abroad.

 

The Working Group’s presence at Concordia University

Its activities have been focused at Concordia University and National Circus School in Montreal, though the group includes individual members from other institutions.

The first year, the Working Group was hosted by Concordia’s Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Society and Culture which offered us some funds to invite a guest speaker and hire a student research assistant to establish the common bibliography. This year, we will be housed in a shared laboratory space at Concordia’s Hexagram Institute for Research/Creation in Media Arts and Technology, while formalizing our partnership with National Circus School.

 

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News

  1. July 2011, during the Montréal Complètement Cirque festival, meeting at Concordia with colleagues from Circostrada, a European consortium of circus advocacy and networking.

Anticipated talks/events (suggested):

  1. Yves Dagenais (National Circus School) « Serious Business: Clown training »
  2. Norma Rantisi (Concordia) and Deborah Leslie (Toronto) « Geography of Creativity and the Cirque »
  3. Tracy Zhang (Concordia) « Labour Practices in Contemporary Circus »
  4. Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia) « From the Workshop to Chain Production: An Industrial Model for a Cultural Industry? On Disney and Cirque du Soleil »
  5. Jon Burtt, Patrice Aubertin, and Sylvain Lafortune (National Circus School): « Circus teaching protocols: One year later, analyzing the results and anticipating the implementation
  6. Guest speakers to be announced
  7. Study Day, June 2012
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Partnership between Concordia and National Circus School

Both Concordia University and National Circus School, through the Working Group, are currently forming a research partnership following three objectives:

  1. Specialized knowledge retention in circus arts training and practice for performers and pedagogues;
  2. The dissemination of circus-related knowledge through academic and industry channels;
  3. Widening the scope and encouraging dynamic academic approaches to studying the circus arts (through research-creation, experiential practices, economic geography, sociology, and other complementary disciplines).

In order to address these objectives, over the next five years, the Working Group will focus its activities along three thematic axes which correspond to its ongoing work and anticipated fields of investigation:

  1. circus pedagogy
  2. historical traditions and current stakes of circus practices, including discourse, aesthetics, ethics, and economics
  3. circus dramaturgy, including a series of hands-on experiential explorations between academics and circus artists.

While Concordia and National Circus School will be applying for funding for its joint research activities under a partnership grant program, individual researchers are encouraged to contribute to the Working Group in sharing their current, independently-funded, circus-related research. Members currently hold grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Québec’s Fonds de recherche sur la société et la culture. The Working Group is an ideal venue for testing out hypotheses, for exchanging ideas with scholars from a wide range of expertises and with circus practitioners and teachers.

The Working Group seeks to establish a multidirectional flow of research knowledge encouraging scholars, teachers, practitioners, policy-makers, and industry to engage in a ongoing dialogue through networking opportunities, hands-on experiences and knowledge retention and dissemination.

 

Research activity and dissemination

Members’ research is regularly presented at academic conferences in Canada, the USA, and Europe, and published in peer-reviewed and industry journals, including Theatre Journal, L’Annuaire théâtral, Urban Studies, Globe, Spirale, Québec Studies, Revista Mexicana de Estudios Canadienses.

A common open bibliography of circus-related sources has been compiled for consultation. We encourage readers to contribute any missing documents and sources.

Every year, the Working Group holds six regular seminar-style meetings and a more extensive study day/conference.

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Members

Members of the group are regular collaborators engaged in an ongoing conversation. They regularly attend Working Group meetings in Montreal or elsewhere and are expected to give at least one talk a year or to act as respondents to colleagues’ papers.

 

Graduate Students

Regular participants, working with Working Group members or working on circus-related scholarly topics:

  • Dr. Tracy Zhang
    post-doctoral fellow, Concordia University; supervisor Norma Rantisi
  • Joanna Donehower
    doctoral candidate, PhD in Humanities, Concordia; supervisor: Louis Patrick Leroux
  • Lyn Charland
    doctoral candidate, PhD in Humanities, Concordia; supervisor: Louis Patrick Leroux
  • Sue Proctor
    MA in SIP, Concordia; supervisor: Louis Patrick Leroux
  • Johanna Tzountouris
    MA, Laval University

 

Invited guests (not officially affiliated with the group):

Colleagues who have given guest lectures or who have attended a number of meetings but who are not formally affiliated with the group:

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Research Activities

 Year 3 (2012-13)  Detailed schedule to follow

Anticipated activities.

Circus Dramaturgy:

  1. Aesthetics workshop with theatre, dance and circus scholars and practitioners (what are the different types of circus dramaturgy, how is contemporary circus challenging these.

Circus Pedagogy and Circus Dramaturgy:

  1. Research-creation: how distinct is the circus artist's creative process from other performing arts? An experiential workshop at National Circus School.
  2. Ongoing pedagogical processes research.

Historical Traditions and Current Stakes:

  1. Anticipated activities include panel presentations on the influence of Québec at the American Council of Québec Studies biannual conference in Sarasota, Florida in November 2012, and a group visit to the Ringling Museum of Art. Call for papers forthcoming.
  2. Ongoing circus bibliography and archives: which system, how to disseminate collections most effectively?
  3. Ongoing research on urban economics and circus labour practices.

 

 Year 2 (2011-12)  Québec cirque and circulations

After having entered into the world of circus through Cirque du Soleil during the first year and having concluded with a study day opening up onto questions of circus training outside the traditional athletic or family-based models, and the larger question of circus generativity (training as well as the "children of Cirque du Soleil" such as Les 7 doigts de la main), the second year's activities will allow for three research themes: circus pedagogy, historical traditions and current stakes of circus practices, and circus dramaturgy.

Full schedule will follow shortly.

  1. July 2011, during the Montréal Complètement Cirque festival, meeting at Concordia with colleagues from Circostrada, a European consortium of circus advocacy and networking.

Anticipated talks/events (suggested):

  1. Yves Dagenais (National Circus School) « Serious Business: Clown training »
  2. Norma Rantisi (Concordia) and Deborah Leslie (Toronto) « Geography of Creativity and the Cirque »
  3. Tracy Zhang (Concordia) « Labour Practices in Contemporary Circus »
  4. Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia) « From the Workshop to Chain Production: An Industrial Model for a Cultural Industry? On Disney and Cirque du Soleil »
  5. Jon Burtt, Patrice Aubertin, and Sylvain Lafortune (National Circus School): « Circus teaching protocols: One year later, analyzing the results and anticipating the implementation »
  6. Guest speakers to be announced
  7. Study Day,  June 2012
    Concordia University & École nationale du cirque / National Circus School Will include guest scholars and industry experts. Call for paper forthcoming.

 

 Year 1 (2010-11)  Performance, Ethos, and Issues of Discourse with the Cirque du Soleil

Rationale for its Interdisciplinary Character:

The working group will consist of Concordia faculty members in the fields of theatre studies, film studies, and cultural and economic geography, as well as other colleagues from McGill, University of Toronto, and the University of London. On the one hand, the interdisciplinary character of the group reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the Cirque du Soleil itself.  The company presents a new brand of circus arts by incorporating acrobats, aerialists, world beat music and elaborate costumes, lighting and sets.  Collectively, our proposed working group has expertise in a number of these cultural fields. One of the members, Patrick Leroux, in recent articles and conferences has approached the Cirque through a combination of performance analysis and discourse theory, a second member, Sylvain Duguay, while a scholar in intermediality in theatre and film performance, has also been on staff at Cirque du Soleil as a researcher and dramaturg, and a third member, Norma Rantisi, has been researching the geography of fashion design and cultural industries policy in Montreal.
On the other hand, an interdisciplinary team can also bring multiple academic literatures and approaches to bear in analyzing some critical research themes that the case of the Cirque du Soleil raises in terms of national identity and the geography of creativity, as well as the identities and practices of individual performers (see more on this in the section below). We believe that each member can benefit greatly from exposure to, and conversations about, different disciplinary approaches relating to these shared interests.  Regular meetings, workshops and reading group discussions can help to identify possible areas in which members can collaborate and establish synergies across disciplinary lines of thinking. We are also very keen on opening up our discussions to other colleagues’ concerns and perspectives.

Description of the Issues in Scholarship, Research or Creation that the Group will address:

Rarely does a day go by without a mention of the Cirque du Soleil’s activities in Québec media. The Cirque has become a symbol of Québec’s cultural success and post-national maturity. The Cirque has become an extremely profitable multinational entity which maintains its essential ties to Québec. For instance, it has consistently and uncannily hired Québécois theater artists in key positions for most of its productions since the departure of Franco Dragone. This integration of « legitimate » theatre practitioners is affecting the nature and scope of Cirque productions to the same degree which theatre artists are gaining unexpected experience with large-scale and large budget shows and applying this to their own practices. This cross-fertilization has concrete, artistic, implications as it does cultural and discursive ones.

An interdisciplinary working group on the Cirque du Soleil can advance scholarship relating to the themes of identity (both at the national and individual scales) and the geographies of discourse analysis (creative, individual, societal), and creativity. The Cirque du Soleil provides a fascinating case in which to explore these themes for several reasons.  While the company recruits performers internationally, it has its origins in Quebec and most creative direction still comes from Quebec, with its headquarter based in Montreal.  What are the implications of this for the identity and character of the shows?  Are they Quebecois? Canadian? International?  How does it shape the actual performance – how do the performances in Montreal compare with those in Las Vegas or Shanghai?  To what can differences and/or similarities be attributed? How does the hybrid nature of a show, which fuses different cultural fields, shape the identity and practices of the performers themselves, many of whom come from different cultural settings?

Objectives

To share our research and thinking on the Cirque; to use this venue as an incubator for new directions in our own research while allowing it to brush against unexpected fields of inquiry. To work towards a study day and/or eventual publication.

 

Schedule

Friday 10 September 2010

Room EV 11-705, 10 a.m.
Opening discussion: current Cirque research; group objectives

Friday 22 October 2010

École nationale du cirque de Montréal
9:30 a.m. Visiting École nationale du cirque du Canada
10:30 a.m., “The Promises of Cirque du Soleil” Erin Hurley (McGill)

Monday 13 December 2010

Room EV 11-705, 10 a.m.
“‘Somewhere between science and legend’: Images of indigeneity in Robert Lepage and Cirque du Soleil's TOTEM”, Karen Fricker (Royal Holloway, London). A revised version of this paper was later given in London, England, at a colloquium on Lepage and Cirque du Soleil.

Friday 14 January 2011

Room EV 11-705, 10 a.m.
“Cirque du Soleil and Laliberté’s ‘Social and Poetic Mission into Space’: the Ethos of Staging the Individual of Exception,” Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia) A revised version of this paper was later given in London, England, at a colloquium on Lepage and Cirque du Soleil.
 
Guest speaker: Catherine Graham (McMaster) on One Drop Foundation and cross-pollination with Cirque.

Friday 25 March 2011

Room EV 11-705, 10 a.m.
“In-house research & research on/for Cirque.” Guest speakers, Dr. Ian Schrier and Lyn Charland each spoke of their experiences of doing research on the Cirque and, in some instances, for the Cirque, within the Cirque structure and confidentiality agreements. None of the confidential research was disclosed. The discussion rather focused on the particular circumstances and occasional challenges that are posed to academic researchers by working within a corporate culture very much aware of its branding and protective of its practices.

Monday 13 June 2011

National Circus School (7th floor meeting room)
“Les 7 doigts de la main and their Cirque : origins and resistances” Charles Batson (Union College, USA). Respondant : Erin Hurley (McGill).
“Into circus training pedagogy: a PhD research project collaboration between the National Circus School and Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Australia,” Jon Burtt (PhD candidate, WAAPA). Respondant: Patrice Aubertin (National Circus School).
“De la scène à la piste: genèse de la création du spectacle annuel Pomme Grenade de l’École nationale du cirque ”, Marie-Josée Gauthier (NCS). Respondant : Anna-Karyna Barlati (NCS).

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Contact

Prof. Louis Patrick Leroux

pleroux @ alcor.concordia.ca