Everyone loves a parade – and especially in Montreal where a surfeit of summer festivals transforms the city into 24/7 open-air theatre. Packed with visitors from around the world, Place Jacques-Cartier marked the commencement of the samba parade that kicked off Sunday afternoon’s La Grande Danse, the climactic event of the annual Divers/Cite festival.
As hundreds of partygoers danced through Old Montreal, Le Carnaval Cantelli led a spirited samba and capoeira procession to Quai Jacques-Cartier on which Divers/Cite celebrated its 22nd birthday with a weeklong festival of arts and music that culminated in the seven-hour dance marathon known as La Grande Danse.
Often referred to as the “City of Festivals,” Montreal hosts no less than 100 annual multi-day festivals, with the majority occurring during the high season from April through October. Given the plethora of choices, locals can get finicky and critical, but visitors to Montreal recognize a good deal when they see one. In a town where the concurrent Osheaga festival can command $225 for a single-day ticket, Divers/Cite offers its guests complimentary admission for the first hour of every day of the festival (with a four-day pass available for $30).
Hours before sunset on Sunday, led by the samba parade, both locals and visitors danced onto Quai Jacques-Cartier, Divers/Cite’s “new” home for the past three years, where local favorite Stephan Grondin headlined a roster of international deejays that included Brighton-based superstars Prok & Fitch, as well as Vibe from Portugal, and Montreal’s own Joubin. In the swoon of late afternoon sun, music lovers from around the globe partied at one of North America’s largest outdoor dance events in the spirit of “All Together Different,” the festival’s motto that stresses Divers/Cite’s belief in both individualism and community. A special collaborative performance by Grondin and recording star Celeda took the crowd to church as the mesmerizing singer lifted her audience into ecstasy with a rousing medley of her top ten dance hits.
Equally as riveting and masterfully directed, Saturday night’s Viva l'Amour was Billy L'Amour’s inaugural entry onto the Divers/Cite schedule of large-scale outdoor events. Held at Divers/Cite’s brand-new stage on Bonsecours Island, L’Amour’s debut show for Divers/Cite was as brilliantly conceived as it was expertly choreographed, with a raft of stellar performances by some of the most talented entertainers in North America.
The three-hour show was a riotous cavalcade of showgirls, chorus boys, burlesque queens, and gasp-inducing entertainers that channeled the antic “let’s put on a show” spirit of both P.T. Barnum and Flo Ziegfeld. Drag king Nat King Pole alternated emcee duties with L’Amour while introducing stars such as Scarlett James, Trixie Little and The Evil Hate Monkey, and Erika Daniels. Matthew Richardson of the “prodigious apparatus” (in the words of L’Amour) was a particular favorite, as was Jessy Gauthier and his dynamic duo of sexy dancers. A trained dancer and former lead soloist in several dance companies, L’Amour generously shared his stage – and yet it was L’Amour’s incandescence that lingered long after the last rhinestone had been ground into the floorboards.
For the 16th consecutive year, Divers/Cite's Friday evening event was also the finish line rally for the Friends for Life Bike Rally, the six-day, 600-kilometer journey from Toronto to Montreal that raises funds to help support those people living with HIV/AIDS.
Designated a UNESCO City of Design, Montreal received the award for its citywide emphasis on talent, tolerance, diversity, and technology – all factors that enable a plurality of values and overall inclusiveness of its citizenry.
The massive crowd at this year’s La Grande Danse made it abundantly clear that the locals who wish to partake in a spectacular celebration of music know their way to Divers/Cite’s “New Home on the Old Port.” Founded on the principles of diversity, solidarity, and openness, and brilliantly orchestrated by General Director Suzanne Girard, Divers/Cite annually reaffirms that while we are “All Together Different,” there are also times that when dancing in the glow of community we are all together one.