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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!