For the past 20 years the National Circus School in Montreal has given hundreds of students the opportunity to get a taste of circus life and helped to transform a talented number of them into full-fledged circus artistes.
Founded in 1981 by actor and circus artiste Guy Caron and top gymnast Pierre Leclerc, the School from the start veered away from the traditional concept of a circus which is usually equated with wild animals, says its director-general Marc Lalonde.
It has been a pioneer in the renaissance of the circus arts in North America and has directly contributed to the emergence of companies like the famed Cirque du Soleil – a circus without animals which blends theatre, acrobatics and music.
The school has several programmes that allow students to begin professional training while pursuing their elementary or high school studies.
Students from as young as nine years old can attend a preparatory programme which enables them to begin professional training in the circus arts while pursuing their regular primary education.
The high school programme, which includes professional training coupled with academic studies is aimed at students in Grades 7 to 11.
The School also has two three-year college programmes at diploma level – Diploma of Collegial Studies in Circus Arts and Diploma of National Circus School Studies.
The former is intended for Canadian students while the latter is aimed at foreign students. Both programmes combine specialised training in the circus and theatre arts with a general college education.
The school has about 100 students, and 40 instructors both full-time and part-time.
“What limits us from taking even more students is the lack of qualified trainers. We are developing a programme to train instructors,” says Lalonde.
Up to 30% of students are foreigners from Europe, Australia and the United States. Fees for Canadians are C$3,300 (RM9,900) a year while foreigners only pay C$4,800 (RM14,400).
“We have maintained the low fees even for foreigners as we believe we can benefit and learn a lot from them,” says Lalonde.
Before enrolling, students must pass an audition. The audition, also called an entrance examination, determines a candidate's potential aptitudes and capacity to successfully conclude the programme.
Ideal candidates have experience in circus arts, gymnastics, trampoline, dance, diving, figure skating, the martial arts or other sports. Lalonde admits that it is difficult to get suitable candidates especially for the college programme as a high-level of skills is needed.
All programmes feature practical training in the major circus disciplines (acrobatic, aerial, balance, manipulation), solid training in circus acting and dance as well as general and specific academic education.
“Students must succeed in all the skills but can choose one of them as a major. Some excel in more than one as versatility is an asset for a circus performer,” says Lalonde.
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