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Barbu | © David Jensen
Barbu | © David Jensen
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Bare The Beard With World-Renowned Cirque Alfonse's BARBU

Picture of Ellie Griffiths
Updated: 7 December 2016
The world renowned French-Canadian circus company Cirque Alfonse returns to London Wonderground with an all new performance set to astonish and entertain all who enter. Culture Trip ran away to the Spiegeltent where we caught up with BARBU performer Antoine Carabinier Lépine to talk more about beards, beers and (disco) balls.

Circus, cabaret and beards seem to be the best way to describe BARBU. What can you tell us about the performance that audiences should expect?

BARBU is like a circus rave. The first part of BARBU is like an old cabaret with traditional circus skills. Then in the second part, anything and everything can happen; it goes more wild with non-traditional circus skills. Sometimes people from the audience aren’t able to describe our show after seeing it because it’s something that you don’t expect and you don’t see often.

I think at the beginning, the audience don’t really understand what’s going on. There is so much happening between the circus skills, the music from our live band and the video. But after couple of acts (and a couple of beers), the audience always go crazy!

Antoine Carabinier-Lépine performs with a Cyr Wheel as part of the Barbu acrobatic troupe | © David Jensen
Antoine Carabinier-Lépine performs with a Cyr Wheel as part of the Barbu acrobatic troupe | © David Jensen

What encouraged BARBU to be a combination of both traditional circus and new style circus? Are there any similarities between traditional and modern circus?

We created Cirque Alfonse in 2005 with my family and friends. By that point, we had already worked with all the big companies in Québec (Cirque Éloize, Cirque du Soleil, 7 Fingers), and we wanted to work together to create something different and do circus our own way, but also, we wanted to stay connected with our roots.

We’re still working with surprises. There are new things our bodies can do, tricks and stunts that come with trusting the other acrobats on stage and working with new technologies like video and our amazing musicians. We couldn’t do that without the traditional circus which came before. We also take a lot from where we come from, the huge mix of different artistic cultures in Québec and its traditional folklore.

You’ve previously stated that the BARBU team is a close-knit team – how do you keep everyone happy as you travel across the world?

It’s a family business with a bunch of friends, and we’ve been working together for about ten years now. We are like a clan; we’re always pushing each other, and when we are on tour with a show, we always try to find new skills to add to keep it fresh and not get bored.

We also love to see the world, and we meet the nicest people and different cultures which keep things interesting!

Barbu | © David Jensen
Barbu | © David Jensen

In your rehearsals, does everyone get a say in the artistic direction, whether they want to try or add new/old tricks? How does this work?

We were creating BARBU for three months before we started performing it for audiences. It’s very collaborative – we support each other. All the company brings ideas about the acts themselves, then Alain [Francoeur], our director, puts it all together.

Where do you seek your influences and inspirations for new tricks and shows from?

Where we live in Montréal; it’s such a great place. I think it’s mainly the people that make it so. There are so many different artistic cultures in Montréal, and I think it’s a mix of everything together that makes it such a great place to create Circus. Not only circus but dance, theatre, music… whatever you can think of. Montréal is a unique place for arts. We go to see a lot of performances when we are on tour as well. I think we try to get influences from all the different cultures and people we meet when we travel.

Barbu | © David Jensen
Barbu | © David Jensen

What influenced the collective decision of a striking portrayal of facial hair and tattoos?

We have the beards because we did a show called Timber! – a lumberjack circus show. Since then, we have just kept them! It’s a style and look that we all share, a fun way to express ourselves and feels true to who we are.

Have the beards ever got in the way of any tricks/stunts?

Oh, yes! Often when we climb on each other or when you eat yoghurt!

How did you originally get involved in circus?

My parents took me to see the National Circus School show when I was younger, and I fell in love with circus. After that, I started circus when I was 15 years old, and I first started training at the National Circus School of Montréal.

What is the most dangerous/hardest trick in the show?

For me, it’s probably doing the four-men-hand-to-hand; I don’t know if you can tell, but we are quite big and heavy. In fact, the hardest thing is to complete the whole show. Everybody is doing so much in 75 minutes.

Barbu | © David Jensen
Barbu | © David Jensen

Could you tell us more about Cirque Alfonse’s other show, Timber!? How does this differ from BARBU?

Timber! was our first touring show, and it’s more a show for all ages. We combine circus with lumberjack skills. We tried to use just lumberjack equipment to do circus, so we were juggling with axes, jumping on logs over big saws, doing the Russian Bar with a real tree, etc. And it’s a real family show; my Dad is in the show, my sister and even my little nephew Arthur, who is just 5 years old.

What are you, and the team behind Cirque Alfonse, hoping to achieve touring as a circus?

We just want to bring our fun and craziness to audiences all over. Trying to show audiences something entertaining and funny they haven’t seen before, and create a crazy world for them to escape from their work with their friends.

Antoine Carabinier-Lépine performs with a Cyr Wheel as part of the Barbu acrobatic troupe | © David Jensen
Antoine Carabinier-Lépine performs with a Cyr Wheel as part of the Barbu acrobatic troupe | © David Jensen

What is the most memorable moment travelling with BARBU, so far?

I think it’s to work and travel with our friends and family. We are having such fun playing BARBU everywhere we go, meeting new friends and discovering the world with our passion that is circus!

What’s next for Cirque Alfonse?

We are planning to tour BARBU and Timber! next year, and we’re going to create something new next year too!

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to run away and join the circus?

The work is really physical; I have been training all my life and never stop doing shows, but the backflip somersault is the best single move when training to help get ‘circus fit’!

It’s all teamwork, and everybody is helping everybody – in circus there is not much competition. It’s trying to help each other to realise new moves and new skills so you will do well if you show you are a good team player. Most of all, just follow your passion!

Barbu | © David Jensen
Barbu | © David Jensen

And finally, how would you describe BARBU in 80 characters or less?

BARBU, it’s a Circus Rave to put aside work and stress to have a blast with friends!