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Montreal’s National Circus School: no clowning around

The circus diet
If you want to succeed as a circus artist there is only one simple diet you must follow: you have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day of your life. Try closing your eyes for a minute and imagining yourself hanging higher than 18 feet off the ground and doing pirouettes on a thin rope. You’ll quickly realize it is only the most physically and mentally disciplined people who are able to make it very far in this industry. 

After attending the National Circus School media call to meet this year’s graduates in Montreal, one realizes how underestimated this discipline actually is. The National Circus School is the only school in North America to provide advanced circus arts training for higher level education. Each year, the NCS equips its graduates with the necessary skills to succeed in one of the most demanding branches of performing arts.

While Montreal offers some of the best circus options in North America such as the Cirque du Soleil and la TOHU, the graduates’ careers will force them to travel all the time and be open to taking new risks as they grow in this unconventional arena.

Before they embark on their professional career, the National Circus School’s 19 graduates will be sharing their talent with Montreal audiences during their 2 upcoming shows: Pomme Grenade and Messa, which take place from May 31st to June 12 at la TOHU.

Roland Lorente

Getting to know the graduates
After experiencing a brief run-through of some of the most exhilarating acrobatics the students put together, I interviewed Nathalie Oleinik, one of the main trapeze artists. Her routine consisted of a series of aerial stunts, for which she used her feet as  the main source of support. When looking at her from below, one becomes terrified by the height at which she finds herself, but the tranquility and flexibility with which she moves become surprisingly comforting. It’s daunting to think about what she had to go through to acquire such skills. “On rope alone I train about ten hours a week. But there are also many hours of cardio we need to do and then there are the performance classes like acting and dancing every week,” says Oleinik, who came to Montreal from Southern California only three years ago.

The preparation the students undergo is not only physically challenging, but they also have to mentally coach themselves to achieve serenity when exposed to such life-threatening conditions. “I run through my number in my head all the time, so when I start to stress out. I know what I need to do. Up until the moment I get on stage I can be nervous, after that I translate that same anxiety into a positive energy, which I use to perform better,” explains a confident Oleinik, who has spent her life mastering every inch of her body.

Roland Lorente

Like in most performing arts, the piece they have assembled for the public came about thanks to the mutual trust and motivation that exist between each member of the team. When on stage, they feed off the others’ energy to help each other climb. “The National Circus School really gave me the opportunity to feel like I belonged to a group. There is always a feeling of working together with your friends, both physically and mentally. When you have such a demanding career sometimes you need to find the enthusiasm to keep going. I think we really do that for each other. But also when we are performing in such dangerous circumstances, we push each other further and build a really strong sense of trust,” she remarks.

The shows
Julie Lachance has been an active choreographer, artistic director and teacher in the circus scene for the past 25 years and has worked for important projects such as Dralion by Cirque du Soleil. The NCS is thus proud to bring Messa to the public, the show she and her students put together.   Pomme Grenade is the latter show, directed by actor, dance consultant and teacher Marie-Josée Gauthier, a talented performer who has taught at the NCS for many years.    


Messa and Pomme Grenade
May 31 to June 12
National Circus School | TOHU | 2345 Jarry E