“May the best beard win!” | Q&A With Cirque Alfonse (Montreal)

“BARBU Electro Trad Cabaret delves into the origins of the circus in Montreal at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Imagine a fairground, where spectators are left spellbound by remarkable performances and outrageous feats, simple curiosities and unexpected eccentricities.”

Montreal is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. Living there is like living in Paris, London and New York all at once, while at the same time having the comforting and familiar feel of a small town. When I moved there for an academic exchange program in August 2014, it became a home to me within weeks. The baristas at Café Humble Lion on Sherbrooke knew my name and always asked about my day, the bartenders at Maison du Jazz by my apartment knew my drink order by heart – even the regular crowds at Tam-Tams in the summertime became friendly faces who always greeted me with a smile. Montreal is a city that simultaneously holds on to its Quebecois roots and welcomes Anglophone foreigners who make their permanent or temporary homes there. Living there as a theatre student was a glorious experience, as I immersed myself in the unique and dazzling arts scene of Montreal.

Cirque Alfonse, a young and innovative circus company established in Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez in Quebec in 2005, is now based in Montreal. Their unique blend of theatre, art and circus infused with the rich history of Quebec is a combination of everything wonderful about the province I called home for eight months. I leapt at the opportunity to do a Q&A with Antoine Carabinier-Lépine, founder and leader of Cirque Alfonse, as they prepare for their latest show, BARBU, which debuts tomorrow at London’s Southbank Centre.

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What training have the members of your company undertaken to specialise in such unique and dangerous acts?

The show is really physical, I have been training all my life and never stop doing shows. For my formal training I went to the National Circus School of Montréal. All of us have worked with the biggest companies in Québec (Cirque Éloize, Cirque du Soleil, 7 Fingers…) Of course at the beginning of a new show it’s always hard. But the more you do it the easier it gets! It’s all team work and everybody is helping everybody.

How has your work been informed by the rich cultural history of Quebec and its socio-political position within Canada?

In this show we combine Traditional Circus with Modern Circus.Where we live in Montréal it’s such a great place, I think it’s mainly the people that make it so. There are so many different artistic cultures in Montréal and I think it’s a mix of everything together that makes Montréal a great place to create Circus. Not only circus but dance, theater, music… whatever you can think of. Montréal is a unique place for arts.

Your shows often play with Canadian and Quebecoise tradition and folklore. How does this translate to international audiences on tour?

The first part of BARBU is like an old cabaret with traditional circus skills. Then in the second part anything and everything can happen, its goes more wild with non-traditional circus skills. I think people often enjoy the same thing now than they did before. They like to forget what they are doing at work, have a good time with friends and see some crazy dangerous stunts in a sexy funky atmosphere. Circus is all that and much more. It’s a mix of all the arts combined!

I think at the beginning the audience don’t really understand what’s going on. There is so much happening between the circus skills, the music and the video. But after couple of acts (and a couple of beers) the audience always go crazy! Sometimes people from the audience aren’t able to describe our show after seeing it because it’s something that you don’t expect and you don’t see often.

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“Cirque Alfonse grew out of the need to look fondly back at the past. A desire to have more time for family, friends and shared moments took hold.”

What is the story behind the name Cirque Alfonse?

I was born in the small town of St-Alphonse-Rodriguez…so we created Cirque Alfonse in 2005, because we wanted to do circus our own way but we also try to stay connected with our roots. Cirque Alfonse, it’s a family business with a bunch of friends and we’ve been working together for about 10 years now. It’s important for us to stay true to ourselves.

What advice would you give to young performers interested in pursuing a career with circus troupes?

The work is really physical, I have been training all my life and never stop doing shows but the backflip somersault is the best single move when training to help get ‘circus fit’!

It’s all team work and everybody is helping everybody, in circus there is not much competition. It’s trying to help each other to realize new moves and new skills so you will do well if you show you are a good team player. Most of all just follow your passion!

BARBU opens at the Southbank Centre in London on 15th June 2016, running until 25 September 2016.
Tickets available: www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/barbu-94032
Photos and quotes taken from the Cirque Alfonse website

[Thank you to Theatre Bloggers for giving me this opportunity – www.theatrebloggers.co.uk]

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