In recent years, Montreal has become the birthplace of a new brand of theater called cirque nouveau -- a highly acrobatic, animal-free breed of circus with a European flair. Anyone with a finger on the pulse of the 21st-century arts world -- or anyone with a pulse, period -- is likely familiar with Cirque du Soleil, but a lesser-known troupe called Cirque Éloize has been giving the internationally recognized company a run for its money.
Like Soleil, Éloize doesn't skimp on sass or sportsmanship, but the 13-member group stands apart from its main competition in a couple of ways. For one thing, its name is funkier; pronounced "el-was," it's a colloquialism for "flashes of heat lighting," which can be seen on the horizon in the Magdalen Islands, the home of Éloize's seven founders. More significantly, under Artistic Director Jeannot Painchaud the dance-theater troupe strives to do more than thrill audiences with airborne feats such as mastery of the bascule (teeterboard), the banquine (human strength balancing act), and the trapeze: Éloize's work also creates an emotional connection between its characters and the audience, a task that Soleil has not taken on explicitly. Its members not only sing, dance, and play music, but also act, and the works have both a time line and a loose poetic narrative.
The current show takes place between dusk and dawn against the mystical backdrop of a nighttime carnival. Titled Nomade, the piece -- which is influenced by the ancient traditions of Roma culture -- transforms the stage into a colorful caravan filled with children of the desert and creatures of the night. Éloize's two-hour performance propels us into the wee hours with a score that contains lyrics in the company's own invented language, a dialect meant to convey the show's universal gesture.