Cirque Alfonse Comes to Portland

A troupe of Quebecois acrobats reminds us that for a timber town, we could be a bit more strapping.

By Ramona DeNies April 14, 2016

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Image: Jane Hobson

There's a circus in Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez—a town about 40 miles north of Montreal—and its feats of agility will fell you.

Axe handling. Banquine. Teeterboard. Something called the Cyr wheel. This close-knit group of classically trained (but still rugged) individualists—some married partners, some avec famille, all friends—have decided to show the world that forestry isn't merely an industry, but more! an artistry.

With trappings of beer steins and flannel, wagon wheels and hatchets, the troupe—which, via White Bird, visits the Schnitz on April 19 and 20—claims inspiration in their real-life family farm, aiming to convey the “exploits of the first North-American lumberjacks, loggers and farmers.”

This, to be sure, may be a problematic nostalgia, but it's one to which we Portlanders, with our penchant for Highland games and Paul Bunyan statues, will reliably succumb. Should we temporarily inhabit a simple woodsy world full of pancakes and pine boughs (I know I want to live there, in vats of maple syrup), this is where strong men sing ballads and pretty girls wear fur and climb to dizzying heights of aerial acrobatistry.

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Cirque Alfonse—catch it if you can!

This is nouveau cirque, with, in this case, an exceptionally beardy father figure in Swiss-born Alain Carabinier, a former competitive alpine skier who now hangs wallpaper in his adopted Quebecois hometown. (In his free time, we assume, when not touring as an acrobat.) There is also a classical ballet dancer, a gymnast, an expert river rafting guide, and a three-year-old child, Arthur, whose appearance is billed as a nightly surprise. Sounds reasonable.

Suffice to say, we are intrigued. (We'd quote you the reviews, from Le Parisien and even Le Huffington Post, but they largely appear in French, which is a language we can only pretend to know in large social groups, when many other people are talking at the same time.)

Here's what we can say: the time is fast fading when any artist can claim direct access to the timber-rich settler lore of eastern Canada—or, by proxy, that of the Pacific Northwest. Will Cirque Alfonse romanticize our lumberjack fantasies? Undoubtedly. Will we enjoy watching plaid-clad gymnasts catapult through crosscut saws, even if, under the surface, they're made bittersweet with collective memories of conflict and lost history? My guess, yes. Yes, we will.

And then, hopefully, we'll head home, guided by new/old thoughts, a need for snappy new suspenders, and hearts grown closer to the size of Babe the Blue Ox.

Enter below before 5 p.m. on Friday to win tickets to Timber!, which runs April 19–20 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. (This competition is now closed)


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