BARBU – Cirque, but not as you know it
From ping pong balls to pole dancing, juggling to human pyramids, BARBU by Cirque Alfonse is one of the most eclectic and extraordinary performances you are ever likely to see.
Having recently finished its run at the Sydney Opera House, the troupe from Montreal has headed to Adelaide, where they will perform at the Adelaide Fringe Festival from March 10 – 19.
The proudly French-Canadian show includes acrobatics, physical comedy, burlesque and a live electro band playing traditional music with French lyrics, which troupe leader and founder of Cirque Alfonse, Antoine Carabinier Lépine, says gives the show a certain authenticity.
“Traditional folk music from Quebec is not so known around the world and we are really proud of Canada – it’s really nice to arrive in another country and be proud of your own,” Lépine said.
“It’s all traditional folk music, so there’s no point of translating it, because it’s really from our roots and it’s not traditional if it’s not real – so we want to keep it real. We’ve managed to understand that people don’t really need to understand the lyrics – they get the feeling and they get big picture, it’s not a storyline show.”
The music is a vital part of the show, adding a vibrancy that a simple backing track never could, as well as providing an extra assurance to the performers.
“The music is so much a part of the show – it could have been just them putting on a proper music show, and for us it’s so nice to have a real live band on stage with us,” Lépine explained.
They follow us, we follow them – if something happens, someone misses something, we can keep going and it doesn’t matter because they’re going to follow us – that’s not the case with a CD. It’s such a powerful thing to have live musicians; you don’t feel rushed by the music.”
BARBU is Cirque Alfonse’s second touring production, after their first ‘Timber’, toured across the world for five years, including a stint in Parramatta in 2015. That production spawned out of a simple wish for Lépine to give a meaningful gift to his father.
“He always wanted to be on stage, and never got the chance, so me and my sister decided to create a show for his 60th birthday,” he said.
“So we put the show together, but we didn’t expect anything out of it – it was just fun for us, but we manage to tour that small show for two summers but after that we had other contracts with other big companies from Canada.
“After a while we decided to come back and create a real show to go on tour, and we created Timber which was on tour for five years and just stopped this year, and BARBU was born three years ago.”
Having been based in Montreal where the Cirque movement was cultivated though the development of Cirque du Soleil and the pathways that grew out of that, BARBU performers have been able to create a show that takes aspects of other productions while creating something truly unique.
“I think Cirque du Soleil was a big push for circus – it made a path for us, so I think we just follow that kind of path and make our own choice – we’re a smaller circus. I don’t know why but in Quebec there’s a lot of art, like dance and music and everything and it’s really nice to be from there,” Lépine said.
“We’ve been travelling – not just me, but the other artists as well – with Cirque du Soleil, Eloize, Seven Fingers, all those companies, seeing other shows as well, how they work in different ways, and I think we took maybe a bit of everything, everywhere and tried to mix it up in our own sauce.”
What they have created is a high-action, intense production which combines multiple elements of circus, giving the audience an edge-of-your-seat experience which they can’t take their eyes off. The physicality and acrobatic nature of the show on the small stage is extraordinary, and often takes the crowd by surprise.
“We’ve always done shows that were really physical; we are at a stage in our careers where we start to get to our peak – we’re not just out of school, we’re not twenty years old anymore, but we still want to do physical stuff – we’re just trying to do as best as we can,” Lépine laughed.
“It’s also interesting to see us not that young and a bit fatty, not super cut – people don’t expect us to do that. When they see us on the street they ask ‘really, you’re an acrobat?’.”