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A homegrown celebration paying tribute to 20 years of Cirque du Soleil!


On July 11th, as part of the Grand Evénement General Motors at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, the streets of Montreal were transformed into a place of music and art, a celebration paying tribute to the 20 years of Cirque du Soleil and the 25 years of the Jazz Festival. The free show got underway at 9:00 p.m. and was aired on both CBC Television and Radio-Canada's French-language television starting at 9:30 p.m.

Created by Victor Pilon and Michel Lemieux, Soleil de Minuit is the story of an idealistic and visionary dreamer who lives alone with his old-style gramophone and, at times, has premonitory dreams. Eager to celebrate the conjunction of the sun and the moon, he sends out thousands of invitations to the four corners of the globe, and tribes of musicians and circus performers answer the call. Soleil de minuit is a poetic eclipse, a joyous gathering, a tribute, and a celebration where musicians, circus artists and the public are all guests of honour.

 
Premiere: July 11, 2009
Type: One-Time Show
 
 

Audio/Visual


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    "Our ties with L'Equipe Spectra go back to our beginnings," said Guy Laliberté, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cirque du Soleil. "The Jazz Festival had already existed for five years when Cirque was born. The festival's international profile, its mixing of cultures and the way in which it takes over the streets have always impressed me. Alain Simard and André Ménard have succeeded in making it one of the most popular events in the world. We share the same passion: developing two of Quebec's greatest natural resources, creativity and culture. I liked the idea of this free show right away because it will take place in the very heart of the city, right in the street! It will also be an excellent showcase for the music we have created over the last 20 years."

    Alain Simard, President of L'Equipe Spectra and Founder of the festival International de Jazz de Montréal, is just as delighted with the anniversary show: "It is a little like a coming-together of the sun, which symbolizes Cirque du Soleil, and the moon, which represents jazz. This once-in-a-lifetime event will take place here, in Montreal, on July 11. Soleil de minuit will be a major milestone in both of our histories. We conceived of this celebration as a gift to the public and a token of our affection for the people of Quebec, as well as a tip of the hat to the tribute we paid to Cirque du Soleil's music in 1995-without a doubt the most memorable event in the Festival's history. Cirque du Soleil has always been an inspiration for us, and we are proud to be able to share its magic with festival-goers. We also wanted to honour Cirque du Soleil for its remarkable success on the international stage, and especially for its limitless creativity which continues to dazzle spectators all around the world."


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      Text by: Wayne Leung | July 2004
      Fascination! Newsletter, Issue #35

    Twenty years ago Cirque du Soleil was founded by a group of artists who performed on the streets. Appropriately, for the celebration of the company's 20th anniversary the performers returned to the streets from whence they came. Coincidentally, another of Montreal's great cultural institutions, Le Festival Internationale de Jazz de Montréal, also celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. As a special thank-you gift to the members of the public who established these two organizations as cultural icons, the Jazz Fest and Cirque du Soleil joined forces to produce a commemorative concert to close this year's edition of the festival.

    Produced by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon with the musical direction of Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, Soleil de Minuit (Midnight Sun) was described as a meeting of the sun (representing Cirque du Soleil) and the moon (representing the Jazz festival) and resulted in a dream concert for fans of Cirque du Soleil's music. The program handed out at the gates claimed that the evening's show would surround the audience and feature 200 artists, dancers, musicians and singers.

    The mega-bash took place on the evening of Sunday, July 11, 2004. The city of Montreal closed a length of Ste. Catherine Street spanning several city blocks in front of the Place des Arts performance halls. A large stage was set up at one end of the plaza with sunrays radiating out from the proscenium arch. The main sun stage gave way to a long catwalk that ended in a circular, spinning moon satellite stage.

    By mid day the crowd had already begun to form at the site and was treated to rehearsals and sound-checks. As the sun set and a warm, humid summer evening began, the crowd grew bigger. By show time the assembled audience would include approximately 205,000 people with hundreds of thousands more watching the event live on television.

    In the early evening I waded through the densely packed crowd to get as close to the action as possible. About half an hour before the scheduled start time, the stage shuddered to life and lighting effects danced on the curtains and illuminated the rays projecting from the proscenium arch. A slow, tribal percussion beat was played over the sound system to set the mystical mood for the evening's performance.

    Finally, with an excited roar from the crowd, an announcer heralded the arrival of Alain Simard, founder of the Montreal Jazz Fest and Guy Laliberté, President of Cirque du Soleil. The two gentlemen enthusiastically welcomed the massive crowd. "We wanted to celebrate our respective anniversaries and give you, the people, a gift," said Guy.

    The large video screens lining the street displayed the title sequence and officially the show began. The camera zoomed in on a character perched on a small stage on top of the Museum of Contemporary Art, overlooking the crowd. Soleil de Minuit's overarching story is about an idealistic and visionary dreamer "Le Rêveur" (played by Paul Ahmarani), a sort of Jules Verne-inspired Fogus Punch who dreams of a solar eclipse and sends out invitations via balloon to tribes all over the world to come and celebrate the meeting of the sun and the moon. It's a slightly corny story but it serves its purpose by tying the disparate elements of the concert together.

    As a whole the performance was average. It was sometimes reminiscent of Solstrom; the costumes were minimal, and only three of the featured acts were actually from live Cirque du Soleil shows. Contracted performers and second-stringers performed the rest of the numbers.

    Where the show really shone was as a concert featuring the music of Cirque du Soleil. Several former Cirque du Soleil singers were featured. Laur Fugère (Saltimbanco), Élise Velle (Mystère), Francine Poitras (Saltimbanco), Mathieu Lavoie (Quidam, Varekai), and Francesca Gagnon (Alegría) were all on hand to recreate the songs they performed on the original Cirque du Soleil albums along with an array of guest musical artists from around the world. The experience was an absolute treat for ardent Cirque fans. The original Cirque voices looked like pop stars performing in a show with more spectacle, grandeur and screaming fans than a Madonna concert. Throughout the night the atmosphere was electric. The crowd came to party and party it did, the infectious beat of the music overtook many in the audience who swayed and danced or clapped their hands in time to the music despite being crammed together like sardines. It was an incredible atmosphere.

    The show starts with a peal from a Taïko drum, calling everyone to the celebration. A tribal procession of dancers and percussionists makes its way onto the stage and a pumped-up dance remix of "Birimbau" from Mystère shakes the earth with Élise Velle singing the exotic melody. The stage fills with dancers and percussionists who radiate an immense energy to the crowd.

    After the raucous introduction, a string section (the I Musici chamber orchestra of Montreal) is heard filling the air with the opening strains of "Il Sogno di Volare", the theme to Saltimbanco's Bungee Ballet. The curtains part and Francine Poitras is revealed dressed like a galactic empress from Star Trek in a black dress and tall hat. The beautiful operatic aria has never sounded better then when accompanied by live strings.

    As soon as the aria winds down we see Chris Lashua of Quidam inside a German Wheel being borne to the stage on the shoulders of four porters. Chris proceeds to perform his dazzling wheel act to the rowdy, Cajun-inspired song "Zydeko" from Quidam, complete with Mathieu Lavoie playfully scatting, yelping and giggling. As the act climaxes with Chris spiraling perilously, the wheel erupts into a shower of fireworks until he is upright again, a spectacular surprise ending for the act.

    When the sparks die down we find an accordion player seated on stage, Francesca Gagnon appears wearing a red dress and assumes the role of a jilted lover. She begins to sing "Querer" while two dancers perform a dynamic and violent pas de deux. The choreography is a little over- the-top but it provides a fitting illustration for the theme of a song sung with so much aching emotion by Francesca.

    The song ends and the dancers embrace. Meanwhile, drums pound out the rhythm of "Bamboo" from Dralion and Chinese lion dancers fill the stage. Midway through the song DJ P-Love starts mixing beats into the live percussion and scratches up a storm with spectacular results.

    Next, Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury joins Mathieu Lavoie to sing "Emballa" from Varekai. Keeping with the theme of the Brazilian- inspired song, performers take to the stage in mock battle, showcasing the Brazilian form of martial arts called Capoeira.

    The crowd's attention is then drawn high above the ground to a man dangling from Le Rêveur's perch and performing an aerial act of twists and figures using nothing but a hanging rod. The song "Le Rêveur" from the Varekai album fills the air and Youssou N'Dour, acclaimed world music artist and the "voice of Africa" walks down the catwalk in a flowing black and red robe. Youssou lends his unique touch and golden voice to the vocalizations of the song. Meanwhile another act progresses onstage - a woman thrashes and writhes while trapped inside a Plexiglass box. The two acts are supposed to contrast the freedom of flight with the suffocation of imprisonment, but the aerial act is too understated and the glass coffin number too overstated to get the point across. Nonetheless, the music is the number's saving grace.

    Continuing the African motif, the music breaks into a remix of Sun Drum Fun from Varekai (a variation on the Carmen Rizzo Toumany remix featured on the Siddharta Spirit of Buddha Bar Vol. 2 compilation, which sounds nothing like the live version). Youssou N'Dour continues his vocalizations backed up by an African choir. Meanwhile, a group of performers on stage and in the windows of the adjacent Hyatt Regency hotel perform a slow and graceful tai chi.

    A simple but beautiful performance follows as Québec's Jorane sings "Marelle" from Quidam while accompanying herself on the cello. Performers on stilts roam the stage and Le Rêveur is spotted pulling a very long red silk scarf out from under his coat.

    Daniela Mercury returns and joins Jorane and Mathieu Lavoie in a rendition of El Péndulo from Varekai. A team of acrobats runs around the satellite stage while manipulating a woman attached to a flying rig at the end of a lever. Unfortunately, the apparatus is much too clumsy and awkward to effectively convey the freedom of flight, especially compared to the images of the Atherton twins that the music conjures. But the song is beautifully sung and the music once again saves the act.

    A boring clown act follows where a guy dressed like the Quidam character repeatedly runs into a Plexiglass wall. Unfortunately, the routine falls flat with the audience as well.

    Soon, a brigade of bagpipers marches onto the stage and leads the orchestra into "Simcha" from "O" featuring Mathieu, Élise and Francine with Laur singing the lead. The same team of acrobats who performed the flying harness now execute choreography, running up repeatedly against Plexiglass wall and forming figures. The act is supposed to be artistic but just comes off as silly. Fortunately, "Simcha" sounds spectacular with the brass section laying it down together with the accents from the bagpipes.

    One of the evening's highlights comes when Mathieu Lavoie takes centre stage, looking smashing in a burgundy suit, and sings the English version of "Let Me Fall" from Quidam. Isabelle Chassé is hoisted high above the crowd and performs her Aerial Contortion in Silk act with the fabric blowing dramatically in the breeze.

    At the conclusion of the song the band transitions into the fast, second movement of the version used in the live show. Mathieu vocalizes the guitar riffs while Isabelle writhes and contorts frantically in the red fabric, a brilliant presentation of this dramatic act.

    The next number is one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the evening. Joseph Dominick Bauer performs on the Wheel of Death (think hamster wheel attached to a long pendulum about 30 feet high). This act was featured in the Cosmic Disco episode of Solstrom.

    Accompanying the wheel of death; a thundering dance remix of "Mer Noire" from "O" rocks the audience. The crowd cheers, dances and claps rhythmically to the infectious beat while "ooh"-ing and "ahh"- ing the death-defying act.

    Next, the audience is treated to an all-time Cirque du Soleil favourite. Yves Descost and Marie-Laure Mesnage take to the spinning centre platform to perform their Vis-Versa Statues act from Quidam. While the act is amazing to experience in a big top with a crowd of 2,600 in rapt attention, the act is sublime when 200,000 watch in quiet reverence. The taïko beats periodically and the orchestra strikes up "Reveil."

    After a moment of solace it's time to start the party up again. As a remixed version of "Oscillum" fills the air the crowd dances and sways while the stage ignites with a team of artists wielding fire wands. The fire jugglers and fire breathers create an inferno on stage. The scene reminds me of an expanded version of the fire act originally featured in Zumanity with its veiled references to S&M in the costume treatment.

    After nearly two full hours, the time has come for the end of the show. A voice rings out over the speakers, "Alegría". The crowd erupts into a cheer, as Francesca Gagnon emerges dressed in the full White Singer costume from Alegría. She beckons us to sing along and we gladly oblige. The familiar strains of Cirque's signature song fill the air, many in the crowd sing along while waving little souvenir cardboard suns in the air. Snow machines perched on top of buildings create a gentle flurry and as the song climaxes fireworks are set-off from building rooftops, a spectacular finale to a magical concert. The crowd erupts into a loud ovation at the end of the song.

    As "Mirko" from Alegría fills the air, a giant inflatable moon is tossed into the audience where the crowd proceeds to play catch with it. The artists and several costumed characters from Cirque du Soleil's shows take the stage for a final bow.

    The singers end the show leaving us with a chanted version of "Horéré Ukundé" and the crowd disperses.

    Leaving the massive event I remember feeling strangely satisfied. It wasn't the greatest Cirque show I had seen by a long shot but what made the experience so special was being in a crowd with so many other fans and participating in a communal celebration of these two homegrown organizations that bring magic into our lives. It was an experience that I'll keep with me for a long time to come. Let it be known that Cirque du Soleil knows how to throw a great party!



     
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