How Montreal’s circus life remained above water through the pandemic
Despite shows shutting down and training studio access restricted, artists have kept their passion burning
Fringe ArtsPhoto EssayIness Rifay — Published April 8, 2022 2 minutes
“A sudden shift to silence” is the recurring description given by circus artists Marie Lebot and Jesse Harris, and costume designer Liz Vandal when asked to think about the drastic transition to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Montreal is a city of spectacle, shows, performance, art, and ultimately, circus. Whether it’s for Cirque du Soleil, the 7 Fingers studio, or the National Circus School, aspiring artists from all around the world travel to the metropolis with hopes of a flourishing and successful circus career.
When COVID-19 made its way to Montreal, the city’s art scene was the first to suffer from government-mandated sanctions. Many studios were forced to close. Shows were cancelled. Some of Cirque du Soleil’s artists were let go because the company nearly went bankrupt. The city’s circus scene went quiet.
Because of the fast-paced nature of circus performance, the first few months felt like a break to Harris and Lebot. However, when it became clear that the situation wasn’t improving, the two grew concerned. “I was worried choosing circus was the wrong choice,” Harris said, a 2020 graduate of the National Circus School.
Instead of fighting it, the artists continued training and adapted to the restrictions. Vandal kept sketching different costumes, even if they were no longer going to be worn by circus performancers for the time being. Despite the lack of on-stage and in-person performances, behind the scenes, the industry has been preparing a loud comeback.