L’Homme Cirque by David Dimitri at Montréal Complètement Cirque


L'Homme Cirque by David Dimitri, photo courtesy aude.fr
L’Homme Cirque by David Dimitri, photo courtesy aude.fr

Chris ‘Zeke’ Hand’s deep, thoughtful and engaging critique of L’Homme Cirque by David Dimitri

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My name is Zeke and occasionally someone next to me on the bus might be funkier than me. On Wednesday I was invited to see L’Homme Cirque. A one man circus performed by David Dimitri. For the squareheads reading or listening, L’Homme Cirque is a play on words in French, a jeux du mots if you will because a one-man band is called L’Homme Orchestre. (I’m not quite certain what they do if the band happens to be a woman, but I digress). Now I’ve seen circus acts that were one person, but never a one person circus. I strongly doubt that you have either.

Anyhows, it appears that Mr. David Dimitri (who by the way is 58 days younger than I am) has done some pretty gosh darn impressive stuff in his life. He started performing at the age of seven. His dad was a hotsy totsy clown called Dimitri who was a star in the Swiss circus Knie. Beyond that he was a part of the Big Apple circus, he helped your friend and mine Guy Laliberte set up Mystere, the first Cirque du Soleil production in Las Vegas. I just might have seen him in 1992 when he performed here, I still thought the Cirque du Soleil was doing interesting stuff then. He performed at the opening of the Frankfurter Waldstadium, in Frankfurt – I think that was the weirdest thing I found in my research (since again, there was no press kit) there’s a picture of him on the Sports Illustrated website because while Mr. Dimitri was there, there was also a Confederations Cup match between Germany and Australia which Germany won 4 to 3. In February of 1987 he did 12 performances at the Metropolitan Opera in the Jean-Pierre Ponell production of Manon by Massenet. He was in the movie “Annie” (no, I never saw it). He even lists on his CV (which is only slightly out of date) when he met Maurice Bejart,which is kind of sweet. I think the last time he was here in Montreal was in the summer of 2010 when the Just for Laughs festival got him to do his human cannonball shtick at Place des Festivals. My guess is that he knows his stuff.

Now-a-days it appears that he not only does the L’Homme Cirque thing, but also does smaller gigs (a la human cannonball on Jeanne Mance street) and has a full blown circus of sorts with his dad, two sisters (one of whom is married to a Montrealer) and his brother-in-law. In keeping with the times he is on Facebook (although he probably should switch his privacy settings as if you aren’t on Facebook you cannot see anything of his) Twitter, and even Google+.

Despite being a one man circus, he doesn’t travel light. His gear weighs in at 13 tons. Besides being an accomplished circus performer he must be (or he has hired) an amazing combination shipper/customs broker. Moving 26,000 pounds of equipment around the world (he lives in Switzerland) is not a simple procedure. I do not know if it was due to luck or he managed it specifically so that he was three tons short of getting older and deeper in debt. Prior to his arrival in Montreal, he played at the Festival d’ete in Quebec City (hence why the folk from Montréal Complètement Cirque were only able to tout the show as a Montreal premier) and New Haven, Connecticut where besides performing he gave a Master Class. Which I think would be a wonderful thing for the festival to offer here as well. Given how many circus students are in town and working for the festival it seems like a no-brainer. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next year. On the left hand, my right is currently being used on my desire for press kits.

Anyhows, enough about the Mr. Dimitri’s very impressive background, what about the show? It takes place in a small tent on the grounds of Tohu. My guess is that it seats 200 people, max. Split up in four sections, when we were there it seemed to be a 1 to 3 mix of children to adults. One mom even brought what appeared to be an eight month old infant who cried for most of the show. (Who brings an eight month old infant to a circus?) As with anything happening at Tohu, if you listen close you can hear the dull roar of the expressway. Since it is only one note, it is relatively easy to ignore. But since this was my first time seeing something in a tent, it was the first time I noticed that there was a fine layer of dust that settled on my notes (and I presume me) during the performance. I can’t imagine that it is the healthiest of places to watch a show. But I figure in small doses (for everyone other than eight month old infants) it can’t be that bad. Sort of like spending an hour beside a badly tuned semi-tractor.

Inside the tent, the first thing I noticed was the tightrope, or perhaps not too tight rope with a trumpet at one end. Once he started to use it I wrote in my notes that I thought it might be a slackline. But according to Wikipedia, and it is always right, a slackline is nylon or polyester webbing, not a rope or a cable. And Mr. Dimitri was definitely using a rope or a cable. It is just that the tension wasn’t as taut as it would be for a proper tightrope. Stick around to the end and you’ll be able to see for yourself what the difference is. There are also three large sandbags suspended from a truss, an accordion, some kind of mat with shoes on it, a wooden horse on wheels, a teeterboard (or Korean plank) and something that vaguely looks like a home clothes drying rack just made out of metal. Depending on where you sit you will be able to see Mr. Dimitri doing last minute set up stuff in the space behind the bleachers.

He appears to be a very personable, dressed in black pants, a white shirt and a red vest. He dies his hair blonde and has the sweetest and most perfectly formed bald spot that I have ever seen. If I ever start going bald, I want one exactly like that. As there is no MC in his one-man circus Mr. Dimitri doesn’t make a sound nor does he speak. But he’s got his clown communication skills down like nobody’s business, I guess good genes help in that respect.

I’m not going to give you a blow by blow description of what he did. There really isn’t anyway that I can do it justice by saying things like “he did this and the audience laughed, and then he did that and the audience laughed more.” As I mentioned there is both tightrope walking and something like slacklining, he also does some acrobatics, plays the accordion and the trumpet and a bongo drum that I did not notice upon sitting down. He however does not play them all at the same time, that would make for a one man band, and he is a one man circus. So if you use your imagination you can figure out that he’s doing something else while he is playing the instruments.

In short, actually I never do anything in short, I’m at about 1,200 words now and I’m thinking I’m about halfway done, he puts on an extremely charming, sweet, captivating and engaging show that despite the lack of a big top brought back all sorts of very nice memories of circuses from my childhood. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the circuses of my childhood were the Ringling Brother Barnum and Bailey shows, which was the greatest show on earth. They had animals, they had clowns, they had tightrope walkers (I don’t think that slackline had been invented then) they had acrobats, they had music and best of all they had surprises. Mr. Dimitri’s has them all as well, just in a much more intimate setting.

He also does it in such a manner that I would bet dollars to doughnuts that everyone in the audience (and here I am not exaggerating) was not quite transported back to their childhood, but was reminded of some very good times they had as a child. OK, I am exaggerating because earlier on I mentioned how about 25% of the audience was composed of children and they aren’t able to have thoughts like that, yet. I can only hope that when they are 58 days older than David Dimitri that they are able to experience something similar.

One of the things that I have always been leery about with regards to the performing life. Is the constant need to do the same damn thing over and over and over and over and over and over again. I think that the only thing I can do repeatedly in my life is sleep, and even then, while I would adore to be able to wake up at the same time every day, like clockwork, I can’t. Mr. Dimitri performs L’Homme Cirque twice a day here in Montreal until the 14th of July. Did it twice a day for two weeks in New Haven, and will be doing I presume twice a day for two weeks in Blagnac in the suburbs of Toulouse, France (as well as having done it twice a day during a shorter run in Quebec City). I for the life of me cannot imagine how I would be able to continue to amaze, surprise, charm and enchant audiences when I was doing the same thing over and over and over again.

Mr. Dimitri created L’Homme Cirque in 2001 with the help of his dad. I imagine that (or maybe hope and wish is more like it) that while the character is the same the actions have changed. It would be a pity to think that the only way I would be able to see it again would be as a repeat. Part of the surprise and amazement comes from how endlessly inventive he is with the various props he uses. To know what was coming up next or how something was going to go would make that impossible. The charm and engagement comes from the sincerity and devotion in his acting. That’s the part that escapes me, how to be sincere and devoted when doing the same thing over and over and over. After a point I would be merely going through the motions. And then after that I would start getting angry.

For the better part of the show, Mr. Dimitri has this ear-to-ear grin on his face. At some points, people like you or me, might think he was wearing it in the same way as he wore the red vest. As if it was part of his costume. But at the end when you have an opportunity to to be really up close to him (after all the tent isn’t that large to begin with so you’re already close to start) it is evident that it is not part of the costume he wears and that it is entirely genuine and real.

As has been the case for all of the shows I’ve seen, there were empty seats. Not many, but some none the less. Which has been surprising, because the normal procedure for just about any performance is to try and pack the house on opening night for a variety of reasons. I hope that this is due to something identifiable and correctable and not due to the festival becoming less significant on the cultural calendar. With respect to L’Homme Cirque, I strongly urge you to go and pick up tickets. They’re $35/ch, which while not cheap are more than worth it. Given that the price of a movie these days is around $20, L’Homme Cirque is definitely worth one and a half times any movie that is currently playing.

While you’re at it, you might want to consider following him on Twitter (he could use a couple more followers) friending him on Facebook and putting him into one of your circles in Google+, I’ve done all three. It will probably make it much easier for me to know when he next comes to town. Which (although I am going to sound like a fanboy here) can’t come soon enough.