Interview with Frédérique Cournoyer Lessard, aerial artist, from Club Swizzle which is in Adelaide until 31 December.
Club Swizzle is back in Adelaide with a brand new show, new artists and new numbers. On New Year’s Eve you can see the show and then celebrate the New Year with the cast afterwards. You can buy your tickets and find out more information here.
Did you see the show last time it was in Australia? Are you going to see it this time? Let me know in the comments below the post.
You are an aerialist in Club Swizzle. How did you become an aerial artist?
Actually, since I was really young I went to the Ecole Nationale de Cirque in Montreal. So I’ve been doing it for a long time. But before that my discipline was contortion.
How long ago did you study at the school?
It’s been a long time since school. I finished in 2005 and I have had a quite unusual career because I am also interested in cinema.
Yes, I was going to say that I saw some of your short films on Vimeo.
Yes, I really make dance and circus films. I studied cinema. In addition, I worked on corporate contracts with my contortion and aerial hoop performances. Then about 2 years ago, I wanted to try a new discipline, something which would last longer, because contortion is good but it is much more demanding on the body. So as I was approaching 30 – I am currently 29…
You do the aerial hoop in Club Swizzle.
Yes, in Club Swizzle, I do my hoop performance. That’s it. About 2 and a half years ago I wanted to change disciplines. So I asked one of the coaches of the Ecole Nationale de Cirque for private tuition in this new discipline [aerial hoop]. So there you go, I changed from contortion to hoop about 2 years ago.
It’s beautiful too. Whereas contortion can be beautiful but it can also be quite disgusting! It depends on the contortion! But contortion must be really demanding on your back.
Yes, it is demanding and it is a job that you cannot do in your 50s. It has a reasonably short duration. Whereas, the aerial hoop, it is demanding but it is still something that I can imagine myself performing longer than my contortion performances.
How old were you when you decided you wanted to be in the circus arts?
I think that it is clear that the circus arts are a vocation. I think that we know inside of us at a young age. I remember, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, that when I would go to see performances of the Cirque de Soleil, I appreciated the show but at the same time I felt a sort of force which drew me towards the artists on stage. It almost caused me pain to not be in their place. It’s really – it’s an almost physical sensation – I felt a need to be on stage since I was really young actually.
Image taken from the Club Swizzle performanceWere your parents supportive of that?
Yes, my mother works in the visual arts. So there has always been a beautiful openness towards the arts in my family.
It’s a creative and open family.
Yes. Then again we are also lucky to be in Montreal because there are a lot of companies in the circus arts, including the Cirque du Soleil. It’s not easy but we are lucky as circus artistes in Montreal because there are lots of circus activities. The circus arts are valued in Montreal and its surrounds.
How did you come to be in Club Swizzle?
I was taken into Club Swizzle. I am really happy to be in this new team, this new company. It’s a superb company, and it’s also my first time in Australia so I am really lucky. I feel really lucky and happy.
Last year, a friend from Quebec who also does aerial hoop was not available – she was doing another show on the Club Swizzle dates. She gave my name to the company, La Soirée. They saw my videos and that’s how I got into the company. I am really happy that it happened like that!
Is Club Swizzle based in Canada or is it an Australian-Canadian production?
No, it’s not Canadian at all. I think that they only came to Montreal once. It really is Australia and London with the company La Soirée. La Soirée perform in London a lot. I also think that they go to the United States reasonably often. But in Montreal, I didn’t meet them in Montreal. It really is an Australian company.
I saw that the performers, like you, are not Australian so I wasn’t quite sure. So it’s an Australian company that takes its performers from everywhere?
Yes, but it’s always like that in the circus troupes. I think that it is a beautiful aspect of our job too. At each performance, the artists come from everywhere in the world. We are never all Québécois, only French or only Australian. It creates strong relationships between us because we communicate also with our movement arts not just with our languages. Sometimes, there is a language that we don’t understand well. Our English might not be so good. However, there are different connections because we share a precise art form so we don’t always need language to create connections. It creates beautiful, strong energies in the company.
It’s a relatively young company as you said. How about the performers? Are they all about the same age?
Yes. I have an experience which is a little different because in Montreal the companies hire many young, young, young people. That’s because students of the Ecole Nationale de Cirque de Montréal has students graduating at 21-22 and they are then hired straight away. The performers are much younger over there.
But in this company, I think that I am – Simon is 24 years old – but I am actually one of the youngest. You see, I am 29. Compared to Montreal, where the youngest are 21 or 22, I am in shows and am the eldest. At the moment, I am one of the youngest!
But I think that is one of the strengths of the company La Soirée. The directors hire people who have life experience, who have lived something other than the school and the circus and I think that is apparent on stage. There’s a different level of maturity. We have different backgrounds. We have a life behind out performances which is physical or technical. I think that this creates a strong connection between age groups too.
Also, to be overseas often you need a certain level of maturity.
So, what do you do to maintain your health, to eat well, to sleep well, etc. when you are performing overseas like you are at the moment?
With Club Swizzle, the living conditions are really good. We are lodged in apartments where we have access to a kitchen, not just a bedroom so we can cook for ourselves. For me, it’s really important, the older we get, the more we realise just how importation nutrition is. To not always be in restaurants, or having fast food…. So it’s good with Club Swizzle because they take our needs into consideration and give us good working conditions.
Each time I go overseas, I take my italian coffee machine and my Magic Bullet to make smoothies to maintain a good diet.
Each time we are injured, we take care. We go to the physio, we put it on ice, we take care of our body. It’s absolutely necessary to do it.
Speaking of physio etc., what do you do if someone falls, or pulls a muscle? How do you manage that?
Normally, it’s actually – it’s true that the circus arts carry risks but it is actually quite rare for accidents to completely force us to stop performing. I had an accident this Summer; I stopped performing for 6 weeks. When I had my accident, I wasn’t with the company so my stopping work didn’t affect anyone. In one sense that was good, but in another, not so as I had to pay all of the physio bills myself. But it happens and it is a part of the job. I think that we have such a good life with the circus that yes injuries can happen but we take care and then come back to perform. It’s part of the job.
The Swizzle Boys make us scared they will fall
Each time I watch circus arts and someone is up in the air, I am scared! I know that you are experts and know what to do and what not to do, but for us spectators there is a moment of “I hope she doesn’t fall!” But then it’s also beautiful to watch the performance and the skill.
Yes, exactly. That’s what we like too. To create this little flame of fear or of risk. It gives the spectators strong and also shocking feelings.
How would you describe Club Swizzle? Why should people go to see it?
I think that people should go to Club Swizzle because it is pure pleasure from beginning to end. Once we are in Club Swizzle, there are no more prejudices, no more conventions, no more rules. We can be who we want, to have fun how we want. We can forget our daily life… and let ourselves be immersed in the extravagant characters that make us laugh. It’s a very funny show.
Personally, my performance is more touching than funny but there are a large number of funny performances. I hear the crowd laughing – it makes everyone happy. I think that it is a great night for everyone.
I saw Club Swizzle when it was in Adelaide 2 years ago. Are they the same performers?
It’s really different. There are some of the same people but who do different performances. The MC is different. There are a lot of different performances. It’s the first time I am in Club Swizzle. There are 2 new Swizzle Boys. There are a lot of new things so it is definitely worth coming back to see it – it’s a completely different show.
You are also an artistic director and have produced films. Do you have a stronger love for cinema or for circus or is it equal?
I think that it is balanced between the 2 because the circus, in its final form, is a show, it is an artistic product. In absolute terms, we are indeed artists, because you have to be very creative to be a part of a circus show, but our daily routines are closer to those of athletes in the sense that our 24/7 is all about physical training.
Making films allows me to create from a more intellectual side, whereas the circus allows me to create more instinctively with my body. They are very different but the two bring a balance for me.
I have always had a burning for the conceptual side of the arts. This very intellectual, thoughtful, the conception, the staging, developing characters and all of that. I think that I need to satisfy that side with film making. It’s good because I make dance and circus films so I find the staging more than the performance balances my need to create intellectually with the need to create physically.
So they are complementary.
Buy your tickets for Adelaide now: https://www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au/events/club-swizzle/
Club Swizzle will also be in Perth from 25 January to 25 February: https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/club-swizzle-fw2018