Anyone who reads this blog knows that we love our cirques. From China, from Montreal, from wherever. So if you tell me that you’ve invited circus performers who are doing lumberjack skills, you know I’m there.
One thing I loved about this show was just how different it was from most of the shows we’ve seen. Unlike the Chinese acrobats who are dainty or sleek and strong, or some of the other Montreal cirques which are polished, these acrobats, the troupe of Cirque Alfonse, were big burly bearded men in flannel shirts and long johns and a couple of women (one very strong and the other a lithe dancer). They spoke and sang only in French and created a set that was very much reminiscent of a Québécois logging camp.
One of the best things about the show was the live music. Most of the acrobats also played instruments–guitars, banjos, a saw, and various percussion. There was something about the performers being up there that made the show more exciting–especially later in the show when the guy busted out an electric guitar which seemed to update the danger level somewhat. I do admit that since I don’t know French at all, I have no idea what the songs (some had words) were about.
There was much humor (an outhouse as part of the set) and of course, plenty of visual humor–usually surrounding how they set up their tricks.
As I’ve noted with other cirques, there’s not a ton of originality involved in what you can do. I mean, there’s only so many feats you can demonstrate–strength, agility, litheness. The big difference with Timber! was the way they modified the standard routines with very different styles of performance–making the tricks seem very different.
And all of the equipment that they used was lumberjack themed. They opened the show by making food. They had heads of potatoes which they sliced fruit-ninja style (while two other guys caught the pieces in pots). They had heads of cabbage which they sliced and then slammed on the table until they fell to pieces (and then they threw the cabbage into the audience). There was even some dancing on the table while the meal was “prepared.”
There were huge logs that they climbed upon and leaped back and forth on. They even did some log rolling and leaping from one log to another (while in the rolling position). Those tricks were pretty neat, but it was when they brought the axes out that we were really impressed.
They juggled axes (and occasionally threw them into the logs so you could see they were sharp). From individuals juggling to group juggling and passing the axes around. It was pretty neat–even when one was dropped and you could hear just how solid they were.
There was a slow point where the older man told a story. Mostly he was used for comic relief–pretending to do a stunt but not actually doing it. But for this one scene he related life in the lumberjack community. Of course, had such a thick French accent that I had no idea what it entailed, but a little boy, aged 3, came up on stage at the end–he is the son of two of the performers.
There was a rope and swing performances, which was quite nice, although it seemed much less dramatic than some of the other ones I’ve seen.
Perhaps the most exciting part was with the saws. As the scene was set, the two strong men used a two-man saw to slice off a piece of a log. Then they used that same (obviously sharp) saw as part of two routines. If you have seen Peking Acrobats, you have seen them jump through hoops. But the Timber! guys jumped through hops that were made from the giant saws!
Another funny/exciting moment was when they hooked up the old man (who was feigning sleep) to a bungee cord and then shot him out and over the stage. It was comical and somewhat alarming at the same time. There was also a high stepping dance routine with the female dancer wearing heavy wooden shows and stomping around.
There were some other feats of strength. Like simply throwing the logs around, but also as in the picture at the top–strength through balance. It was very impressive to see men who didn’t look super muscular and don’t look super fit. But they clearly are. And when they did the balance and leaping act on the pole which two of them men were holding up–that was super impressive.
The only disappointments in the show came from the audience. First, the show was so poorly attended–what’s wrong with Branchburg that they passed up this great show? I felt bad for the performers. Second was the very badly behaved people behind me. They had a small child, which is fine. But when the child talks loudly throughout, you have to tell him that this is the theater and we don’t talk loudly no matter how adorable that talk may be. Also the adults need to know that if they are facing forward when they talk to each other their voices actually travel right into the ears of the people in front of them.
So come on Branchburg, go out and get some culture, just bring your manners.
I would definitely see another show from Cirque Alfonse.