If “Spread the magic!” was Anahareo Dölle’s motto for the first Saint John’s International Circus Fest in 2018, the event’s co-producer affirms that “Recreate the magic!” was this year’s! With over 1000 visitors enjoying four days of circus performances, workshops, and discussion panels last September, the bar was high. Pinpointing audience’s favorites and other successful key-elements felt like the first logical step when planning this new edition.
“It wasn’t about starting from scratch nor trying to make it all feel brand new and different,” says the circus artist turned producer who started planning and programming merely a week after wrapping-up 2018! “A good team, support from the community and funding: that’s what made it work and where my mind went for 2019.”
On September 25th, people were walking in a determined fashion, confirming panelists’ arrivals, talking ticket sales with show venues, and making final changes to a giant wall-to-wall schedule at the festival’s headquarters. Hosting a selection of shows, a broad variety of workshops, and discussion panels instead of a single type of event clearly triples a festival’s workload! On the other hand, this unique combination might explain the event’s success. Locals and guests traveling to Newfoundland’s capital were getting plenty out of their stay. The four circus enthusiasts from Halifax who attended workshops every day and that couple from Calgary with tickets to all five shows were already talking about 2020!
One of Montreal’s “circus hits” kicked off the festival. In L’Impro Cirque, two teams of four players face each other in what feels like an artistic hockey match. Using circus disciplines and acting abilities, they improvise short skits and score points based on the audience’s votes. No hockey sticks nor pucks here, but there is an arbitrator giving penalties on stage!
The D.F. Cook Recital Hall welcomed back cabaret hostesses Mooky and Krin Haglund. The first one was at the reins of the Cabaret at the Edge of the World and introduced artists from across Canada and Finland. Marie-Ève Dicaire’s mesmerizing, very personal and intimate hand-balancing and Saint John’s Elite Dance Studio’s Broadway-ready performances got particularly generous reactions from the audience.
Ms. Haglund led what she referred to as the LCCNCSWGS or Lady Cove Choir & National Circus School With Guests Show. In this very tight and moving 90-minute performance, a string quartet and an impressive choir set the tone and surprised with their brilliant take on pop songs like “Sweet Dreams” or “Chandelier.” As violins and powerful voices filled the hall, Montreal’s National Circus School’s (ENC) alumni and students took to the stage with their special guests. Igloolik’s clown quartet Artcirq and Nadine Louis’ contortion in and around a bathtub felt like the audience’s favorites.
Circus people can twist and tumble, but that does not mean that they can’t think and talk! The different panels organized around the city were proof that the Canadian circus community’s interests go far beyond stunts and sparkles! In a very lively two-hour discussion, representatives from six provinces and one territory agreed that a clear will to see, perform, and produce more circus can be felt across the nation. However, the lack of venues and funding are still important obstacles. “We need to be creative, to think of more possibilities to see live performances. Do all shows need to be in conventional theatres? Let’s democratize circus by having some in public venues, private houses and natural spaces. Such a move goes hand in hand with artists being more flexible, willing to adapt their shows to such an environment… If not created there in the first place!” to quote two panelists.
More communication and more unity are what the Canadian circus industry needs, that was the consensus that emerged from panels on diffusion, social changes and funding. One panelists summed the situation up rather well by saying that it takes a village to make a show, but a few villages to make it tour, while another pointed out that networks and pretty good knowledge are not being used. Seeing Nunavut, Alberta and New-Brunswick sharing ideas and elaborating action plans with such passion however is a sign that solutions might be on the horizon.
Two very different shows with humor at their core closed this year’s festival. In Suhde, Katerina Repponen and Pasi Nousiainen got loud laughter from both kids and grown-ups. Featuring two strong, well-written characters who interact with each other as much as with the audience in a well-paced show where acrobatics, a few whiplashes, and foot juggling serve the characters instead of taking the focus from them.
Finally, Patinoire’s return is the perfect
example of what good a festival can do to a show while listening to the audience. After an acclaimed sold-out representation in 2018 and feeling the interest for this acrobatic, musical and very funny one-man show, Saint John’s Arts & Culture Center united with the festival to bring back hilarious Patrick Léonard and produce a tour that took The 7 Fingers‘ show to two additional cities.
“You need a good team to make it work and I could not be more thankful to everyone who has given us time and energy! This project is a dream come true and sharing it with so many of you for another year has been amazing! Thank you all and see you in 2020!’ said Mrs. Dölle as parting words to the Arts & Culture Center’s audience…
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Feature photo Edge of the World Cabaret with Holly Treddenick. All photos courtesy of St. John's International Circus Fest unless otherwise noted. Photo credit: Alick Tsui