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Cirque Alfonse is a young circus company from Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez in the province of Quebec, established in 2005. The young company is comprised of a team of professional acrobats who graduated from the École nationale de cirque de Montréal, as well as a professional dancer, an ex-skiing champion and three talented and versatile musicians, blending the arts and techniques of nouveau cirque and infusing them with picturesque facets of traditional Quebecoise folklore.
Needless to say that the resulting mélange the troupe brings to the table as a collective is much bigger than its individual parts added up. Barbu (which translates to “bearded” or “bearded man” – quite a telling name) the company’s 2015 Edinburgh Fringe hit, is performed on a small circular stage and catwalk and delves into the origins of the circus in Montreal at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
Think acrobatic vaudeville and burlesque comedy. The troupe, comprised of five gentlemen and two female protagonists, introduces itself with non-stop routines agile and daring feats of balance and strength, utilizing an array of props including teeterboards, hoops and balls, poles, roller-skates, and whatever one can juggle with in the most contorted and seemingly impossible way.
As the show goes on, the intricacy and sweat inducing physicality of each feat becomes increasingly intense, with loads of shenanigans, unpretentiously camp humour and audience interaction thrown in for good measure to keep the mood light and fast paced. The pace of the show is enhanced by all protagonists constantly involved: The four men (Jean-Philippe Cuerrier, Francis Roberge, Jonathan Casaubon and Antoine Carabinier Lepine) get few breathers in this interval-free 90-minute show. Barbu’s women – aerialist Genevieve Gauthier and acrobat Genevieve Morin might have less of a presence, though deliver superb performances when in the spotlight.
The action is serenaded by an entertaining live musical soundtrack courtesy of a three-piece electro-folk band led by singer-guitarist Andre Gagne, whose circus rave adds spice when things get kinky in the second half of the show, e.g. when Lepine appears as a human disco ball circling in a Cyr wheel or when beer kegs are juggled in underwear. What makes Barbu a fun night out is that the troupe works as a family based collective: There is an esprit de corps that enriches the physical acts, which is further enhanced by the artists mingling with the audience. One can tell that the protagonists are not merely re-enacting their bits but have been involved in the development from the get go and take pride in it.
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