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The Old Travelling Circus is Alive and Well

Cirque Alfonse family circus company revives the historic Québec fair with ‘Barbu’, a baroque cabaret party that will blow your mind. 

by Maggie McPhee

Photo by Frederic Barrette

Forget what you know about modern circus, with its sleek stunts, glossy production, and kid-friendly material. Cirque Alfonse, the world renowned family circus company, has turned back the clock, embracing the freakshow fairground origins of Québec’s rich circus culture. Let’s just say that Barbu, their most recent spectacle on now at Vancouver’s Historic Cultch Theatre, does not feature a petting zoo. 

Barbu peels away the pretence of a big budget show. “We don’t hide behind a costume or behind props,” says Antoine Carabinier-Lépine, Barbu director and performer, and founder of Cirque Alfonse. “It’s us on stage, our character is just us, and there’s no bullshit.” 

The company performers, many of whom are family and close friends, flow through a series of set pieces, organised not around narrative but around conjuring the atmosphere of an old French-Canadian fair. Backed by a frenetic electro-folk band, the acrobats shuffle through eccentric, funny, and death-defying stunts, steadily raising the stakes until culminating in circus acts no one has ever seen before. “You can see us sweating and shaking,” says Carabinier-Lépine, “we perform right next to you, we are in your face and you can touch us and feel the sweat and the craziness.



Cirque Alfonse isn’t merely interested in the aesthetics of the early travelling circus, they live its lifestyle every day. The Carabinier-Lépine family have been touring around the world together for over 25 years. Antoine’s sister, girlfriend, brother-in-law and 78-year-old father all perform, while his mother heads the organisational aspects of the business and tends to the grandchildren. The clan has just returned from Australia. After Vancouver, they’re heading to Quebec, Colombia, and Europe. 

“It’s pretty crazy,” says Carabinier-Lépine. “It’s a way of living. It’s not for everyone, but for us, it’s the best life that you can have. It’s a bunch of friends and family travelling together, we’re always having so much fun on tour, trying to bring happiness everywhere. We want people to have fun and to forget all the trouble they have in their life.” For the next nine days, Vancouverites have an opportunity to bask in that happiness. After that, Montrealers can enjoy the honour in July during the city’s circus festival, Montréal Complètement Cirque. Allons à la fête! 

On now until June 23, Vancouver audiences have a chance to experience Barbu at the Historic Cultch Theatre | TICKETS & INFO