Machine de Cirque navigates COVID-19 on the FLEUVE

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Photo: Danielle Burns

The wind, sky and seagulls couldn’t distract this focused acrobat from her task.

The Machine de Cirque (MDC) has been dealing with COVID-19 challenges that have forced the group to cancel or postpone tour dates. In direct response to the pandemic, this local circus arts organization created an ad hoc show called FLEUVE, inspired by the St. Lawrence River.

FLEUVE was designed to comply with all physical-distancing measures needed at this time both for the artists and the audience. Using the beach at Baie de Beauport, groups of 20 people were led to five stations to watch circus performances accompanied by live and recorded waterway sounds. Three 50-minute shows were performed per evening from sunset until well after dark.

Spokesperson Claire Gras explained, “The show consists of five scenes, each exploring a specific aspect of the river, which is considered a ‘main character’ in Quebec City’s history: the industrial harbour, the exploration of old shipwrecks, fishermen, a lighthouse and ice canoeing. FLEUVE was shown only in Quebec City for six free shows from Aug. 13 to 22. Every show was ‘sold out.’”

The project was funded by the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec and the Ville de Québec, and supported by Québec Circus School, Baie de Beauport, the Port of Quebec and WKND Radio 91.9 (CJEC-FM in Quebec City).

MDC artist Connor Houlihan explained that “COVID has pretty much brought the live entertainment world to a halt. With so much uncertainty about when we might get back to touring normally, Machine de Cirque decided to put together this project…. With the ever-changing rules and regulations surrounding public health and safety, we weren’t sure it would ever come to fruition.”

Houlihan added that “distancing the artists on stage, making sure to follow all the safety guidelines while performing, and keeping audience members apart while they watched a show were huge tasks to achieve.”

Having two performing couples in the show (the lighthouse and ice-canoeing duos live together) made things somewhat easier. While practising inside the MDC rehearsal space, everyone followed strict precautions. Houlihan had to find a way to do hand-to-hand contact with his acrobatics partner. This was only possible if their hands, eyes, nose, and mouths were covered. So they used full-face diving masks. “Let me tell you, training and performing wearing a scuba mask is not easy! They are big and bulky and definitely take some getting used to,” admitted Houlihan, adding, “however, it’s a small price to pay to be able to put on a show during [pandemic] times.” Wearing wetsuits, the group performed in the cold St. Lawrence River for hours after dark and, although it was chilly, Houlihan said they were actually hot at times with all the movement.

COVID-19 has shaken up the lives of many performing artists around the world. “Nothing is guaranteed. I have friends who have decided to start school courses, some have picked up ‘normal’ jobs for the time being, and some have even changed career paths completely. Travelling is completely off the table for now. Just getting to the U.S.A. to see my family for a short while is proving difficult. None of this is easy, but there will be a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Houlihan. “It’s made people happy to go out and see a show – which is something I think we [used to] take for granted!”

Shows like FLEUVE give hope, entertainment and inspiration. James and Ester Cary watched the sunset show on Aug. 15 with their children Aiden (12) and Cecilia (5). Aiden was particularly thrilled since he is an avid unicycler. He was inspired by the lighthouse act to want to try the bigger giraffe unicycle and a big wheel.

Artists want you to know, if there are any shows or events happening near you and you have the means to go, please do so! They need the support now more than ever.



A unicyclist is caught in the act when transitioning from his unicycle to the towering giraffe unicycle. Photo by Danielle Burns



A fisherman acrobat performs on a Cyr wheel during MDC’s FLEUVE. Photo by Danielle Burns