Posts tagged ‘Cirque du Soleil’

Free Cirque du Soleil show one of many reasons to visit Quebec City

You have a choice. You can either shovel out a Ben Franklin or two for a seat at a Cirque du Soleil performance in Vegas or New York or one of the other hundreds of venues where the innovative circus arts company performs.

Cédric Egain.

Or you can head to Quebec City and see an equally-impressive Cirque show for….are you sitting down?….absolutely free. Every summer for the last four years, Cirque du Soleil has created a complimentary show for the city that launched its success back in 1984.

Before the multimillion-dollar Cirque was booking sell-out shows in some 270 cities around the globe, it was a small ragtag theater troupe whose fire-breathing, accordion-playing creator was only able to keep the wolf from the door with unemployment insurance. After walking 56 miles on stilts from Baie-Saint-Paul to the Parliament in Quebec City, the gang of street performers convinced the Quebecois government to offer them a $1.3 million grant to tour the province for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada.

Let’s just say it was one government investment that worked. Cirque du Soleil today rakes in a billion a year and owner Guy Laliberte, on unemployment insurance no longer, owns seven homes, an island and paid $35 million a few years ago to be the seventh non-astronaut in space.

As a thank you to the city that first took a chance on the avant-garde circus troop, Cirque du Soleil created “Les Chemins Invisibles,” a five-chapter show performed outdoors under a highway overpass in the trendy Saint-Roch district. The free performance runs five nights a week throughout the summer.

Not that you need an excuse to visit this gorgeous, cobblestoned UNESCO World Heritage city. Summers in Quebec City amount to one big party with endless festivals, a lively café vibe and non-stop street performances.

One morning, as early as 8 a.m., I enjoyed a barrel-chested opera singer belting out Rigoletto’s ‘Caro Nome’ under the imposing statue of Samuel de Champlain on the wooden-planked terrace overlooking the Saint Lawrence River.

Champlain, the mapmaker who is credited with founding the city in 1608, was the reason I was visiting Quebec City. Every year, during the first week of August, Quebec City throws a New France Festival, a rousing five-day celebration of the city’s 400-year-history. Like the one-day Renaissance Festivals so popular in the U.S., this festival features historic demonstrations, baroque ensembles and costumed performers. But unlike the U.S. wannabe’s often held in vacant cornfields, Les Fetes de la Nouvelle-France, as they call it in this French-speaking city, is staged on cobblestone plazas within thick protective walls. It’s about as authentic as you can get.

For five days, the historic streets of Old Quebec are filled with fascinating characters, everything from cart pullers to snobby-nosed noblemen, from stilt walkers to silversmiths, all nodding, curtsying, promenading and generally having a 17th century good time.


Even visitors can get in on the pageantry. Just because I wasn’t one of the actors performing a vignette about say, sword making or shoe cobbling doesn’t mean I couldn’t dress up. Practically everyone does even if it means getting up an hour earlier to cinch yourself into your dress or your brocade waistcoat. Zippers and snaps, of course, weren’t invented back then, so the costumes my daughter and I wore involved countless eyelets, strings and cinching that, much to a teenager’s chagrin, can’t be accomplished without assistance. Instructions and patterns for costumes are generously posted on the festival’s website even though some overachievers, I’m told, budget more than a thousand dollars for each year’s new rendition.

Needless to say, a bit of uncinching was in ordering at the public market where there were just too many tempting libations from smoked trout, French Canadian meat pies and grilled goat cheese to cups of just-picked blueberries and maple-flavored ice cream.

The festivities kick off each year with the Parade of the Giants, 12 giant marionettes, accompanied by hundreds of costumed revelers followed by concerts, dance performances, ghost tours, spectacular fireworks, archaeological digs and more than 1000 other events. It’s no wonder this festival was recently chosen by the Canadian Tourism Commission as one of the country’s Signature Experiences.

Can someone say “Huzzah!!” Or better yet, “Tres Charmant.”
Taz Grout

Five top reasons for liberals to add Montreal to their bucket list

Tourist destinations are not created equal. Here’s the top five reasons ya’ gotta love Montreal:

1.The majority of the population drives a BMW. Or that’s the joke. In Montreal, BMW stands for bike, metro or walk, all sustainable forms of transportation. The Metro, the underground rail that moves more than a million people on an average weekday, is a regular art museum with more than 100 works of public art from Marcelle Ferron’s magnificent stained glass at Champ-de-Mars to the only authentic Guimard entrance outside of Paris. It’s also one of the world’s most architecturally distinctive subway systems with each of 68 stations designed by a different architect. And since the metro is linked to 10 major hotels, you can conceivably visit Montreal, even in the dead of winter, and take nothing but shorts. Everything you could ever need from malls to fine dining is linked up to the metro. As historian Jean-Claude Germain said, “The metro is for Montreal what the boulevards are for Paris or the canals for Venice.”

2. Equal rights are taken seriously. Peek into the annals of most city histories and you’ll likely find a male, usually memorialized in a big bronze statue, usually riding a horse and carrying a weapon. Just last year, Montreal decided to officially recognize a female co-founder. For most of its 350-year history, Montreal gave the founder nod to Paul Chomedey de Maionneuve who led a group of missionaries to the Ville Marie settlement in 1642. Now Jeanne Mance, a French nurse who started a hospital and saved the colony by securing money from France, has her own statue and her own place in the history books as city co-founder.

3. Artists make grand and important statements. Cirque du Soleil and the National Circus School converted a 475-acre landfill into one of the world’s largest gathering places for circus arts. Called La TOHU (it’s a French term that means fertile confusion and renewal), this non-profit built a LEED-certified performance space (it’s round, made entirely out of recyclables and uses electricity transformed from landfill gas), hosts visitors to the recycling center and gives environmental safaris.

And in an effort to live by their stated social economy principles, La TOHU also refuses to hire anybody who doesn’t live right there in the once-impoverished Saint-Michel environmental complex. This site that was once a limestone quarry and a monstrous landfill is now an inspiring green space with 3 miles of bike paths and free events for guests to gather and ooh and aah such innovations as a micro-power station that converts biogas from the landfill into electricity and an ice bunker cooling system visible through a glass floor.

4. The anthem of the anti-war movement was written here. It was at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono, during their second Bed-In For Peace, wrote “Give Peace a Chance.” When the celebrity couple checked into the hotel at midnight May 26, 1969, they’d already made headlines with a honeymoon Bed-in at Amsterdam’s Hilton two months earlier. But it was at the Montreal Bed-In, also attended by Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary, Petula Clark and a group of Canadian Radha Krishnas, where the song “Give Peace a Chance” was composed and recorded, eventually reaching No. 14 on the Billboard chart.

5. There’s a cool (23 to 28 degrees) hotel that’s 100 percent sustainable. The Montreal Ice Hotel, with its 24 rooms and suites, is built entirely out of ice and snow, requiring nary a tree to lose its life. Unlike similar snow villages in Finland and Quebec City, this hotel is right in the city, on the very site, in fact, where Expo 67 was staged. It has an ice bar, an ice restaurant (it seats 60 and is helmed by Michelin star chef Eric Gonzalez), a wedding chapel and a convention center.