Wielding a bottle of wine, a gathering of objects straight out of a flea market, and a peerless set of circus skills, Montreal clown-acrobat Patrick Léonard keeps the audience on the edge of its seats, poised between laughter and gasps, with his celebrated solo show, Patinoire. The show comes to the Hopkins Center for the Arts on Wednesday and Thursday, May 1 and 2, in Spaulding Auditorium.
Léonard is a founding member of the Montreal circus collective Les Sept Doigts de la Main (Seven Fingers), one of the leading companies in a city known as “the big top of the world” (Washington Post). This show—Les Sept Doigts’s first solo show—draws on the same unaffected theatricality that have made the collective an international hit, including providing choreography for the recent Broadway revival of Pippin, directed by Diane Paulus.
Founded in 2002, Les Sept Doigts is a collective of creators who set out to redefine contemporary circus from its essence and explore the endless possibilities offered by the blending of artistic disciplines. Each of their creations is thus a new epic, a subtle mix of acrobatics and theatricality. In its 17 years, the collective has created shows as diverse as their creative minds: solo shows, Broadway musicals, prestigious international collaborations, special events, Olympic ceremonies, television performances, immersive experiences, and more.
Coming to Les Septs Doigts after three years of training at the National Circus School of Montreal and several years as a clown and juggler in European companies (including Switzerland’s famed Circus Knie), Léonard performs in and directs many Les Sept Doigts shows, sometimes alongside his two daughters. In 2015, he co-directed the acrobatic performances of Moby Dick, directed by Dominic Champagne, at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal.
“Patinoire” translates as “ice rink,” perhaps referring metaphorically to the show’s precarious feats of daring. Playing a shy, eager-to-please audiophile trying to operate bulky outdated hi-fi equipment, he juggles, balances and tumbles with a precise “clumsiness,” while the audience wonders: Will the next moment bring satisfaction or disaster? Created in 2010, the show has toured Quebec and Europe, including a hit 2014 run at France’s high-stakes Avignon Festival. Le Journal Du Dimanche (France) called Léonard “a worthy descendant of silent cinema, á la Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin.”
See Léonard in a spectacular routine involving the diabolo, from the 2007 production LOFT by Les Sept Doigts de la Main:
Affectionately known in circus circles as “le maître des chutes” or “master of tumbles,” Léonard told writer Anne-marie Desbiens that falling artfully was bred into him. “I grew up with six older siblings, so let’s just say I’ve been pushed around a lot as a kid. Tumbling is a game for me! Later on, gravity intrigued me. We see falls everywhere in the circus universe: bodies falling, objects falling, there are endless possibilities. It’s also an experiment the artist shares with the audience: everybody has taken a fall in their lives. I love to play with the tension before the tumble, falling at just the right time or when the audience least expects it.”As for his precise clumsiness, that art of the near miss, he said, “My greatest inspiration is me! My own clumsiness in life, the carelessness, the blunders of those who, like me, want to push faster than time. I drew from what I observed around me on a daily basis, in just about everyone’s slip-ups.”
Learn more about this utterly original clown-acrobat from this 2012 documentary.