We always said: “There’s no cheating in our show!” We use real axes and saws. And they’re sharp.” We spent three months putting together our first show, Timber, in the family barn that we turned into our rehearsal space. The show helped us make a name for ourselves in Québec and we toured internationally with it for five years. It was the beginning of Cirque Alfonse’s “professional” trajectory. “Performance, music and dance were always part of our upbringing and family history.” And when I say “professional,” this is because Timber wasn’t our first show or family project. Cirque Alfonse was a natural extension of our family’s history in the performing arts.
The short of it is that my brother, Antoine, studied at the National Circus School and was a member of several circus troupes, including Cirque Éloize, Les 7 Doigts and Cirque du Soleil, with which toured internationally for several years. As for me, I studied contemporary dance. Performance, music and dance were always part of our upbringing and family history. The first time that my brother and I worked together, alongside our friends and other family members, was for a performance in honour of my father’s 60th birthday. It was a small performance that we did under a tent in our town in Lanaudière. It was well received – we performed it again a few times before kicking off the production of our first show as a professional troupe.
“It’s important to know that for us, the circus is more than just a series of tricks.”
People are surprised to hear that we rehearse in a barn. It’s a pretty special place. It started out as an old barn on the family land that no one used anymore. We turned it into a rehearsal space. Originally, we did it because we had to. But now we realize that it gives us some freedom. They don’t let you throw axes in a normal rehearsal space. So working in a barn forced us to use new tools, think of ways to incorporate other disciplines and create differently. After rehearsal, we’d all go back to the family home next to the barn and talk about the show over drinks… It helps create a good atmosphere!
It’s important to know that for us, the circus is more than just a series of tricks. There’s a significant musical and theatrical aspect to it. All the artists are on stage for an hour and a half. If they’re not the main performers during a given scene, they’ll be singing, dancing, playing music or creating a festive ambiance. Everything comes together to form an extraordinary whole, steeped in our Québécois roots and folklore, with traditional music, bearded men and references to local culture. And that’s what sets Cirque Alfonse apart. We had a lumberjack-themed show, an electronic/traditional music cabaret, and our latest production focuses on the church. It’s called Tabarnak. You can’t get any more Québécois than that!
At the beginning of each tour, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be well received in Québec. But we’re still surprised by how audiences have been reacting internationally. It’s like they can identify with the folklore in their own way. Our family spirit, roots, and joie de vivre is contagious. The audience can feel that. When it’s festive, it’s universal!
Even though our style is unique, it’s important for us to keep innovating. When it came time to put together our last show, we had already explored all the disciplines we were comfortable with in our previous shows. We needed a new approach and new acts. We get a lot of inspiration from travelling, and the other shows that we see. For example, we saw a show in Australia where acrobats held a pole on their shoulders and other acrobats balanced on it. We thought it was cool, so when we put together our new show, we tried it out..
We’re a tight-knit troupe made up of friends, parents and children. Two weeks before the premiere, we still hadn’t mastered the act. But with so little time left, our only choice was to make it work. We took off our security harnesses and gave it our best. After two months of hard work, we finally nailed it, and just in time. Now we do it at every show. We always have to keep pushing our limits and taking risks. Without risks, there would be no circus.
Our lifestyle might seem a bit crazy: We just got back from Australia, and we’re back in Québec for a few weeks before going off to France, Italy and Edinburgh, Scotland. Then we’ll be going to Mexico before coming back to Québec for some fall performances. It seems tiring, but it’s our lifestyle. We’re a tight-knit troupe made up of friends, parents and children. While we’re off on our huge family vacation around the world, our hearts are always in Saint-Alphonse.