Falling from the Sky

Normally as winter turns to spring we might be singing “Rain, rain go away.” But it’s not only another dry spell that has locals praying for a shower – it’s also the return of Cirque Éloise’s astonishing production of “Rain,” which sloshes back into the Lobero Theatre for three nights this Wednesday through Friday.

Éloise is based in Montreal, which is also the birthplace of the much larger Cirque du Soleil, giving the island city the distinction of creating two of the most theatrical circus companies in the world. But while Soleil performs in grand ballrooms in Las Vegas and huge show spaces elsewhere, Cirque Éloise prefers the intimacy of smaller spaces, having traded the big tent for the theatre.

“Rain” is the second piece of a trilogy of pieces created for Cirque Éloise by Daniele Finzi Pasca, an Italian innovator who has also worked recently with Cirque du Soleil. The show is built around nostalgia for childhood memories – the simple concept of not having enough sense to come in out of the rain – and each of the astounding feats of strength or agility is linked somehow to a story beyond the act, resulting in perhaps the most mystical, magical and marvelous performance you’ll see this or any other year.

Cirque Éloise co-founder and artistic director Jeannot Painchaud discussed the company and the show in a recent telephone interview.

Q. Why did you name the company “Éloise?”

A. It means heat lightning. It’s an expression in the Magdalen Islands where both the co-founder (Pasca) and I come from. When we started the company back in 1993, the first idea was that we were a bunch of circus artists who were friends and who had decided to go back to where we were from to present our first show. We've grown internationally – now we have an average of one hundred fifty shows a year – but the very first idea was just to have fun with our friends back on the island.

You were once a member of Cirque du Soleil. How do the companies compare?

Both are part of the new circus movement, which mix the different art forms – theater, music, performance – but always with acrobatics up front. Actually, we all learned from the National Circus School here in Montreal. They are the first company to emerge from the period, so they're very important. But there have been many other groups to come out from that idea of working with people from other art forms – choreographers, theater directors, artists, singers in order to reinvent the circus through those other worlds and innovate with the acrobatics.

But we're not trying to be like someone else, or follow what they are doing. Cirque du Soleil has one hundred people on stage, and millions of dollars in special effects while we are just a small family of twelve artists.

That puts a lot of demands on each of them to be multi-talented, doesn’t it?

Yes, and that is what we look for in our performers. We're not hiring people who come to do their act and then wait until the end of the show to take a bow. It's more of a theater piece. So every single person who works in our show must be on stage a minimum of one hour. Being the best juggler is not enough. You have to have the ability to do amazing feats, but also actually act, be artists. Maybe they sing or play a musical instrument. It’s a certain sensibility. And you also have to have the desire to be part of the community, join a group where everybody needs each other. That's part of the philosophy of the company. We're not interested in a gold medal contortionist only. You need to have good relations with your peers. You must have amazing acrobatics but also touch people.

And that’s also part of what “Rain” is about – that interaction.

Yes. We wanted to go deeper, more intense in the various relationships and that fragility, not just agility. There is something magical about things falling from the sky. It’s about the emotions and feelings.