Michael Montanaro defines himself as a multidisciplinary artist and an artisan. He uses acting, music and video as his means of expression, but is best known both in Canada and abroad for his contributions to the world of dance. Between 1980 and 1985, with Groupe de la Place Royale, and from 1985 to 1996, with his troupe, Montanaro Danse, this choreographer's creations appeared on major Canadian stages and at leading cultural events in France, England, the United States and Singapore. Montanaro created 15 choreographic works in all for Groupe de la Place Royale when Jean-Pierre Perreault was at its helm, and as artistic director, dancer and composer for Montanaro Danse, created 12 shows that incorporated new technology into contemporary dance. During the 1990s, Montanaro also worked with the Opéra de Montréal, Montreal's Centaur Theatre, the National Film Board of Canada, and Discreet Logic, a company that specializes in computer-assisted animation.
Michael Montanaro grew up in the French-speaking neighbourhood of a small New England town. He got his introduction to the stage by taking part in the community's folk music ensemble. After dance studies at Hartford Conservatory and a stint with the Boston Ballet, he set off for Quebec, in search of adventure. When he crossed the border in 1974, Montanaro had only seven suitcases, a television and high hopes of finding his place in the Montreal dance milieu. A few months later, Fernand Nault, then director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, took Montanaro under his wing. Montreal was to become Montanaro's home base.
Since the mid-1990s, he has played a role in training the next generation of dancers at Université du Québec à Montréal, Concordia University, and the University of Calgary, and was choreographer in residence at Arizona State University's Institute for Studies in the Arts. In 1999, he became acting chair of the Contemporary Dance Department at Concordia University in Montreal. In 2001, the invitation from Cirque du Soleil for Varekai and the guarantee of a solid replacement as department head prompted him to take a sabbatical from his university career.
Michael Montanaro wants his creations to reach the wider public. For this reason, his choreographies are light years away from the darkness and obscurity often associated with contemporary dance. "The circus is a festive art, without being trivial. Like a magnet, it pulls us away from our day-to-day problems for a moment, toward a universe where everything is possible. It's much more than just entertainment," says Montanaro.