Family circus

A clan of acrobats puts a rustic spin on the high-wire antics and artistry made popular by Cirque du Soleil

BY Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Fri, Aug 23, 2013 - Page 12

Timber!, the creation of Cirque Alfonse, is part of a blossoming of circus arts inspired by the success of Cirque du Soleil, but which has found its own identity in the culture of the group’s native Quebec. As its title suggests, Timber! is set in a backwoods logging community, and the members of the Carabinier family, who make up the bulk of Cirque Alfonse, revel in all kinds of circus daring with axes and saws, all played out against a backdrop of toe-tapping Quebecois folk music.

Speaking to the Taipei Times via Skype, Antoine Carabinier-Lepine said the show had emerged two years ago when the group was staying at the Carabinier family home in northern Quebec. “It is a little barn in the forest, and we created the show using just wood and instruments that lumberjacks would use. We juggle with axes, jump over big saws and use logs and tree branches instead of many traditional circus props,” he said. “We try to mix traditional folk lumberjack culture and circus together.”

Having worked in the circus for many years, touring with Cirque du Soleil and other companies, Carabinier-Lepine said that he wanted to do something to get back to his roots. “Me and my sister, we grew up in the woods of Quebec, and our ancestors were lumberjacks,” he said. “Many young people today are into stuff like rap music, but where we come from, the folk music is still very much alive, and we want to keep it and allow younger people understand what it was like before … [We started our own company] because we wanted to not just be hired artists, but to do something about our roots, make something more simple and rustic. We didn’t want to do a whole lot with technical stuff like lighting and design.”

Carabinier-Lepine said that all the props are made by the group and the axes, saws and other dangerously sharp objects on stage are not of any special design. “They are just bought from a shop that sells tools for lumberjacks,” he said.

All are razor sharp. “In one stunt, because we use a saw also to cut wood, we had to make it even sharper than normal.”

For Carabinier-Lepine, risk is part of the entertainment. “One thing we said when we created the show was that we would not cheat. These are all real [lumberjack] objects. It is dangerous … We believe that circus is made of risk. People go to the theater because they are afraid of the tiger in the cage, or they are afraid of people falling on their head.”

Although Carabinier-Lepine has moved on from Cirque du Soleil, he credits the group with making a path for other circus performers to do something more than traditional circus. “It is not just about making somersaults anymore. It is more about artistic point of view also, and you can mix in music, dance and theater … Cirque du Soleil opened a way. I don’t think everything they do now is good, but it was good for us, and has made circus very well known in Quebec.”