Cirque Eloize iD debuts in Chicago this spring with a visually spectacular masterpiece. Sixteen artists showcase everything from juggling to stilt walking. Director Jeannot Painchaud sat down to discuss the history of the creation recently.
Windy City Times: Hello, Jeannot. How did you start this whole endeavor?
Jeannot Painchaud: I started the whole thing 18 years ago. I am part of what has been called the new wave of the circus. It was started in Quebec, Montreal. About 25 years ago I was a student at the National Circus School. I come from a little island called Magdalen Island, right in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We were seven friends studying at the school, which I consider now the best circus school in the world. They have acrobatics, acting, and dancing. An artist is really complete after that.
WCT: How did the show begin?
JP: We created a show there to show our families on the island. It is very tiny with 12,000 people living there. The meaning of the word is heat lightning. We made the show with gymnastics and acrobatics. This sparked an interest. I was an acrobat myself and a juggler. I worked with Cirque de Soleil for a year along with other companies. We are all from the same movement in Montreal.
We started Cirque Eloize so my interest from the very beginning was to work with people who didn't really know the circus. So creators from other areas like contemporary dance, theatre and for sure musicians and composers, it is all original. We have been creating for 18 years now and eight different shows that have toured in more than 400 cities and 35 countries. It is a small story with a group of friends that became a company. With time, I have decided to stop being onstage as an artist and now work on development as artistic director. This particular show iD I directed myself.
WCT: So this is all you and your new baby.
JP: [Laughs] That's my new baby.
WCT: What does iD stand for?
JP: It is for identity. This is about my family and clan. I wanted to express myself through my family and then through myself to show what I am capable of. That is the challenge of the two gangs and the story between them. It is a love story. There are some nice quiet poetic moments but most of the show is really powerful. We are talking hip-hop, break dance, rollerblade and even a trampoline wall.
WCT: I saw in the promo that there are video projections.
JP: I wanted to create a show where there would be a camera in the city on a corner looking at kids challenging each other. It would zoom in and out to another area. Because it is all video projection on a big wall it is like a cartoon. Characters are like real characters on a cartoon set. There are some movies going this direction with sketches as a set then real actors are on the set. That is the direction that I took for the show.
WCT: Is the show always changing?
JP: Sometimes we have to change artists because they leave the show or are being replaced but it is the same show. We just launched it last year and it is the first big American city. It is very important for us because Chicago has such a great theatre scene. We express ourselves with acrobats but there is acting and dance as well.
WCT: Is there live singing?
JP: Not live because all the music has been recorded.
WCT: Who are the artists that you picked music from? It sounded very hip-hop-influenced.
JP: Yes, it is a real mix. I have friends in a group called Beast. They have been really popular in the last three years. They worked on the melody and the beat of the music. If you listen to them then will recognize the songs of iD. I wanted really urban soundselectronic, techno but also a nice melody. I always start with the music. It is the first step with me in the process. I make people around the table listen the music, and explain the direction. The set designer, costume designer, choreographer then join me to work on the direction initiated by the music.
WCT: There was a Latin vibe, from what I saw.
JP: In some parts, [it's] definitely how the characters are played. It is not West Side Story but there is something about the two gangs and the attitude. Some of the dancers are very good at it. Out of the 16 cast members, four are hip-hop and break dancers. All the artists dance in the show. It is a very physical show. That is always in Cirque Eloize. Everyone participates in the whole thing. You will recognize them in the whole show and be attached to them. The way they look at each other and their moves has Latin roots. I am from Montreal and we are a mix of Europe and America. Our roots are more Latin that Anglo Saxon.
WCT: I saw the YouTube video of the show and the girl was pulling her leg like a human pretzel!
JP: She is doing a duet with a b-boy.
WCT: What is a b-boy?
JP: A typical break dancer. They do battles from spinning on the head to moving with attitude. I built a duet with a contortionist meeting a b-boy. It is all mixed up together. It creates a piece of art with two different ways of moving. It is animalistic, like araignee…
WCT: French for spider…
JP: Like a spider meets a strange animal from the city. They work together really close to the floor. That brings something new. There is another scene with a roller skater and a girl up in the air. I am trying to do a strange mix and bring the audience to a new world.
WCT: It looked like a younger style than some Cirque shows I have seen.
JP: Absolutely. That is on purpose. I wanted young energy and young artists expressing the city of today.
WCT: Where are you going after this?
JP: We are going to Boston, then Singapore and pass the whole summer in Miami.
Get your tickets to catch iD in town at www.broadwayinchicago.com as it runs April 26-May 8 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph.