At a glance Cirque Alfonse seems like a regular circus. Juggling? Tick. Animals? Tick. Music? Tick. But there’s one major difference: instead of bronzed and buffed young acrobats (as per Club Swizzle, La Clique, Cirque de Soleil or any of the other myriad companies that have toured Sydney), there’s bearded performers with “dad bods”.
Cirque Alfonse performers juggle beer kegs or golf clubs. And it has an animal (a star guinea pig). The troupe of eight performers and three musicians (who play electric fiddle, guitar and drums) includes graduate acrobats from the famed École nationale de cirque de Montreal, a professional dancer and an ex-skiing champion. But otherwise, it’s unlikely you’ve seen circus like this before
The Canadian family troupe Cirque Alfonse began a decade ago as a 60th birthday present from siblings Antoine and Julie Carabinier-Lepine to their father and mentor, Alain.
“We wanted to do a show with him because he always supported us into circus, and my sister into dance. So we decided to create La Brunante and we toured that little show for two summers to Quebec,” co-founder and acrobat Antoine says from Perth, where Barbu, the troupe’s new show, toured earlier this month.
Following that tour the performers drifted off into other companies; Antoine to Cirque Éloize, Cirque de Soleil and Circus Oz, among them. The desire to revive Cirque Alfonse was strong, so they reunited and created Timber!; its bearded, talented lumberjacks delighted local audiences during its popular 2015 Sydney Festival season. That show included Carabinier-Lepine and his sister, her husband and son, even then-67-year-old Alain.
Now Barbu is playing in Sydney. There’s nudity and hair, lots of hair (the title of the show, is French for “bearded”). Barbu pays tribute to the fairgrounds of Quebec at the turn of the 20th century, with the traditional strong man, contortionist and juggling acts.
“That’s the first act,” explains Carabinier-Lepine. “The second part we wanted to be more wild and sexy and daring; more kinky. It’s in the second half that things go a bit crazy.” Think keg juggling and human punching bags. “What we’re doing is quite dangerous, we’ve had a couple of injuries but luckily not serious ones.”
Cirque Alfonse prides itself on being unlike any other circus. There are the “dad-bods” for one. “We’re not really young anymore, for acrobats,” says 35-year-old Antoine. “We’ve done that for 20 years now so the body starts to change.”
The tricks the team performs are done with an all-in attitude. “It’s a small family circus, everybody is doing everything on stage. We really wanted to keep alive our roots, our traditions from Quebec, but we decided to make it modern.”
There’s also that guineapig, whose mode of travel to Australia remains a strict secret. “We can’t tell you this, if we did it might be dangerous for you,” says Antoine.
It’s fascinating to see how many companies come out of Canada: Cirque Éloize, Les 7 doigts de la main and Cirque de Soleil. Certainly Montreal has one of the biggest circus schools in the world, and Antoine is the first to acknowledge Cirque de Soleil paved the way for other Canadian circus outfits, although he’s quick to point out Cirque Alfonse is no franchised model.
“Everybody participates in all acts and unlike traditional circus we like to make the audience feel they’re with us on stage. And we’re less with the glitter.”
Barbu is playing at the Sydney Opera House February 8 to March 4.