Montréal is Canada’s unofficial arts capital, with both French and English theater, dance, classical and jazz music, and all sorts of interesting blends of the above on stage virtually every night of the week. The city’s bilingualism makes it creatively unique and encourages creative collaborations and cross-pollinations that light up the performing-arts scene.
Live Rock, Pop, Jazz & Blues
Montréal is a music powerhouse, fostering an incredible variety of talent from cabaret pop stars such as Patrick Watson to Leonard Cohen and jazz legends such as Oscar Peterson. The underground and indie music community has many venues in which to catch rising stars, such as Casa del Popolo, while major acts from elsewhere in Canada and overseas perform at the Bell Centre or occasionally at special venues like the Stade Olympique.
There are dozens of concerts on every week at bars, clubs and concert halls. During summer, major music festivals such as Osheaga showcase big-name bands that bring fans from around the globe. Check local listings for details and try to buy tickets in advance.
While the city is small compared to other artistic capitals (such as New York and London), Montréal boasts some world-class companies renowned on the international circuit: a symphony orchestra, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal; an opera, Opéra de Montréal; and a ballet company, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. And don’t forget Cirque du Soleil, the magical, Québec-born circus of dance, music and acrobatics that forever changed the art form. Speaking of circuses, Montréal has its own year-round dedicated circus-arts venue. TOHU, in the St-Michel district, hosts an eclectic lineup of shows and circus events, with both homegrown groups and international acts.
The presence of Québec’s large French-language film and TV industry, and US productions that shoot here, have made the picturesque city a hotbed of film and TV production. Especially during spring and summer, you’re likely to see movie shoots on downtown streets and Hollywood stars nonchalantly roaming around – they may show up in unexpected places.
Montréal has its share of multiplex cinemas, but many also include foreign or independent films in their repertoire. More interesting are the several independent movie houses and repertory theaters. The Cinema Montréal website (www.cinemamontreal.com) is excellent, with reviews and details of discount admissions. The repertory houses offer double bills and midnight movies on weekends. These cinemas are sometimes cheaper than the chains showing first-run films.
Considered Canada’s dance capital, Montréal boasts an avant-garde and extremely vibrant dance scene. These days styles such as ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, Latin social dancing and tango exist side by side with cutting-edge contemporary dance that fuses various styles and incorporates theater, music and digital art. Montréal is home to many internationally renowned companies, such as Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal (www.grandsballets.com), La La La Human Steps (www.lalalahumansteps.com), O Vertigo Danse (www.overtigo.com), Tangente (www.tangente.qc.ca), Les Ballets Jazz De Montréal (www.bjmdanse.ca) and the popular theatrical touring dance company Cirque Eloize (www.cirque-eloize.com). The fact that Canada’s National Circus School (www.ecolenationaledecirque.ca) is based here certainly helps feed fresh, unconventional talent into the dance and performing-arts scene.
With so many potholes in its roads, long winters and a multiethnic brew, humor comes naturally to Montréal. In July, the city plays host to the world's largest comedy festival – homegrown Just For Laughs (www.hahaha.com). The laugh-fest has been going strong for 30 years, attracting top comics such as Lewis Black, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, John Cleese and Jon Stewart, and even exporting itself to Toronto, Chicago and Sydney.
When Just For Laughs isn’t on, you can still get knee-slapping laughs at dedicated venues in the city. Comedy Nest (www.comedynest.com) specializes in stand-up and open-mic nights. Improv specialty venue Montréal Improv (www.montrealimprov.com) has free classes for those who want to be funnier.
Coffeehouses & Spoken Word
The spoken-word scene is quite popular in Montréal, often linked to the hip-hop community. Some of the most exciting and interesting stuff is being done on university campuses. Since these events tend to move around from bar to bar, it’s best to check out the bulletin boards or flyers at McGill or Concordia universities where new and underground performances are regularly announced. Venues such as Divan Orange also hold spoken-word events, and hip-hop crews and improvisational music collectives such as Kalmunity (www.kalmunity.wix.com) organize special spoken-word and improv events. Throw Collective (www.throwcollective.com) is a poetry-based collective that holds a monthly poetry slam and other events.
Need to Know
- Book tickets well in advance for live performances.
- Purchase tickets for concerts, shows and festivals from the venue box office, or call Admission, Ticketmaster or Evenko (www.evenko.ca).
- Beware of buying from touts outside event venues on the night of a performance. Try to check with other attendees whether you’re buying a genuine ticket and not a forgery.
- General admission to mainstream movie theaters such as Cineplex is around $12 or $13. Some art-house theaters have discounted times and days. Ex-Centris has lower prices ($10) for tickets on weekdays before 5pm; Cinéma du Parc has $8 deals on Tuesdays.
- Daily newspapers Montreal Gazette and French-language La Presse are great resources for arts and culture listings, as is the free French weekly Voir.
- Nightlife.ca (www.nightlife.ca)
- Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (www.montrealjazzfest.com)
- Cirque du Soleil (www.cirquedusoleil.com)
- La Scena (www.scena.org)
- Tourisme Montréal (www.tourisme-montreal.org/what-to-do/events)
- 33mag (www.33mag.com)