Meaning bearded in French, ‘BARBU’ is the third production from Cirque Alfonse, a young circus company from Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez in the province of Quebec. Described as an electro-trad cabaret, ‘BARBU’ pays homage to traditional Montreal circuses of the 19th and 20th centuries.
“At the beginning of the century, there was a showground [in Montreal] where there was a contortionist and big, strong guys performing, so we wanted to keep that alive,” Cirque Alfonse co-founder, Antoine Carabinier Lépine explains.
The troupe, made up of four burly, bearded men and two female performers, stack themselves into human pyramids, roller skate, juggle, see-saw, contort and pole dance with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. Even Antoine, a seasoned performer who started circus at the age of 15, is reduced to helpless giggles when discussing the show’s human punching bag act. “The start of the show is more of a traditional circus, and the second part is more crazy and kinky, and a lot of people do not expect that.”
Image © Andrei Kalamkarov
One need look no further than Antoine’s Cyr wheel act for proof of the troupe’s penchant for putting a spin on traditional circus acts. If performing acrobatic moves in and around a large rotating wheel isn’t challenging enough, Antoine does it dressed as a disco ball.
“I’ve been doing Cyr wheel for many years now, and I was kind of – not bored – but I didn’t know what to do as a new act with that. I always felt in that moment in the Cyr wheel like a disco ball spinning all the time, so we created a disco ball for me as a costume, and we thought it was a funny way of doing the Cyr wheel. After fifteen years of doing it, you need to find a new way.”
Human feats aren’t the only element of the show that dazzle the eyes. A video projection played throughout pays further homage to the troupe’s Quebec roots whilst also deepening the audience’s connection with the physicality of the performances.
“In the first part of the show it’s more about Quebec scenes and natural, outside scenes of Quebec, and the second part is more about our body and what we’re doing on stage.”
Image © Idil Sukan
The frenetic sounds of a live, three-piece electro-trad band on guitar, violin and drums provide the soundtrack of the show. “They [the band] created the soundtrack especially for the show, and it is inspired by traditional folk music in Quebec mixed with electronic music. It’s a really nice mix.”
Returning to Australia after performing in Austria, the troupe have acclimatised at the 2017 Perth Fringe World Festival and will now head to Sydney to perform ‘BARBU’ at Australia’s most famous landmark, the Sydney Opera House.
“We are from a small village in Quebec, so for us to perform at the Sydney Opera House… It’s quite amazing for us.”
From there the cast will travel to South Australia to present ‘BARBU’ for the second time at Adelaide Fringe, and Antoine is confident that ‘BARBU’ will once again surprise and delight.
“We did two months in London in the summer, we did 100 shows in a row, and the show changed every time. I think they [Adelaide Fringe goers] will love it even more this time.”
‘BARBU’ Tour Dates8 February-4 March – Sydney Opera House
8-19 March – The Peacock at Gluttony (Adelaide Fringe)