We were lucky enough to have a chat with Antoine Carabinier Lépine of Cirque Alfonse about Tabarnak You can see it every night until the end of the Adelaide Fringe. Times and ticket details at the end of the article.
I tried to see what “Tabarnak” means and it seems that it is a swear word in Quebec. Is that correct?
Yes, it’s true. It’s the worst swear word that we can say, actually. It’s a bit similar to “fuck” but it’s a religious word, it comes from the Church because in Quebec, all of the swear words come from the Church.
We have a very religious past and the swear words that we use now all come from religion. That’s why we called this show “Tabarnak” because the show talks about the Church – how it was before and what it is like now. So, it’s a meeting place – we wanted the show to include everyone and for it to be very communicative. We found that the Church was the place in a tiny village at which people would meet before and that worked well for us.
I also saw that on your website the members of Cirque Alfonse are named Saint so I thought there was a religious element but I wasn’t sure just what it was.
Yes. The show doesn’t really talk about religion. We wanted to look closer at the building, the meeting place… because, these days, it is very difficult to talk about religion. We didn’t want to embark on a very complex subject because religion is very complex these days, but we thought that it would speak to everyone. We are not religious. We are not practicing. We are atheists. But we have a long religious past in Quebec. My mother went to Church with her parents every Sunday. All the swear words that we have now are still religious – which is quite special – there are not a lot of words that have remained anchored like that.
When we arrived in America, religion was followed by the Indians to make religion the ultimate object if you like. So it was very present in Quebec but now almost everyone is Atheist. Cirque Alfonse is a very traditional circus. We want to hold onto our traditions, our Québécois roots. So we find that the show is a cheeky wink.
Are they the same people who were in Barbu?
Yes. It is not entirely the same team. There are one or two changes but they are largely the same as in Barbu.
This is a show which is very, very different to Barbu but it has the same essence. Barbu was a bit of a joking cabaret. Tabarnak is more theatrical or musical. Because of the religious side, we wanted a bit of a Rock ‘n’ Mum side with the music. The music is a large part of the show. We have 3 live musicians who composed the music especially for this show. So it’s like a large rock ‘n’ roll musical mass. It’s strange!
Have those who were in Barbu that are also in Tabarnak shaved off their beards?
No, we still have our beards!
So it is quite different to a few years ago when we saw the people from Barbu on roller blades and not much else promoting the show in the streets of Adelaide!
We still have roller blades in the show but we will not be naked this time. We will have more clothes on.
That’s a shame for the ladies!
Yes, but well it changes things up.
On the website it says that you are “the savior of lost spirits and alley cats in Hochelaga”.
Hochelaga is the quartier where I live with my girlfriend. Hochelaga is Indian – it’s in Montréal. My girlfriend is normally in the show but she has just had our baby so she won’t join us for the show but we hope that she will come to join us in Australia in a few weeks.
Your family is also in the circus – your girlfriend, your Dad too?
Yes, it is a very family oriented company. My Dad was part of the show Timber, which is the show that we did before Barbu. My sister is in Tabarnak – she is the singer in the show as well as an acrobat. My brother-in-law is also in the show and my girlfriend normally is too.
Is there anyone in the show that is not family?!
Yes, there are some who are not part of the family but they are very close friends.
And you’re the Director of Cirque Alfonse?
My sister and I are together. As well as our stage director, Alain Francoeur, with whom we have worked for 11 years now.
Before being Artistic Director of Cirque Alfonse, what did you do?
I did a lot of circus – with the Cirque de Soleil, with the large circus companies from Québec, I was also in Sweden for 2 years with Cirkus Cirkör, a Swedish circus company. I’ve been in the circus for 20 years. 20 years!
Did you decide you wanted to join the circus when you were a child?
In fact, it’s thanks to my parents that I started circus. They took me to see a show by the Ecole Nationale de Cirque in Montréal, which is a large circus school. I fell in love with the circus at the age of 14. My parents have always supported me and so I started circus thanks to them. My parents did not do circus before. My sister and I were doing contemporary dance together and we said to each other “why not start our own company?” So the first show of Cirque Alfonse was for my Dad’s 60th birthday. My Dad started to do circus when he was 60.
How old is he now?
He’s 71 and has just retired. He performed his last show at the age of 71.
He wasn’t in Barbu though, surely?!
No, it was a bit too daring for him.
What has been your favourite moment in your career?
Woah. There are so many. To be able to travel with your parents, with your family is something that I will never forget. We travelled for five and a half years with the show Timber, and my Dad was in the show. I think that it was a marvelous moment for the entire family. We continue to travel with my sister, and my sister has two children and we have just had a child, so it is all very familial. I know it’s not a particular moment but to travel with your family, to do what you love as a job, I think that is the most beautiful gift.
And did you meet your girlfriend in the troupe?
It was in 7 doigts de la main and it was on tour and travelling with the circus together, yes.
Do you think that your child will be in the circus too?
You never know. I think that is it the most beautiful life in the world, so I hope she will but we will see – she will make her own choices.
But having two acrobats for parents, she’s likely to have good balance!
I think that it will be inspiring for her but sometimes children want to do something else.
What are the challenges of travelling with such a show?
It is a quite large show. There are 9 of us on stage. There is always planning. We live together. So it’s great but of course it is not always easy to manage everyone. We are a big family and in all families there are little problems so we try to manage them as best as possible.
Do you have to bring equipment to Australia for the show?
Yes, the equipment is very expensive to transport. But we have a very good team in Arts Projects Australia, with whom we collaborate. They are really good. They take care of a lot of things for us so we are very lucky to work with them.
And you do the Cyr and German wheels?
I don’t do any of that in Tabarnak. In Tabarnak, there isn’t any. In Tabarnak, it’s group numbers so we are all on stage practically all of the time. There’s the hand in hand, the Russian swing, the perch, the spinning meteor. Everyone sings in the show – everyone dances – it is really a multi-level show. We are all on stage the whole time. We also do a bit of roller skating again.
Tabarnak really is a show for everyone.
Even religious people?
Yes. We don’t mock religious. We want people to leave the show saying “we are all the same regardless of our religion”. We just want to live happily and in peace and that everyone is good to everyone else. I think that is the message we want to transmit with this show.
Is it a show for adults or for children?
Both. Barbu was moreso for adults but this show really is for everyone. There is nothing that bothers anyone. It’s a beautiful show with beautiful images and great music. Everyone should come to see us in Adelaide.
You can see Tabarnak at Gluttony during the Adelaide Fringe – nightly at 8:30 pm except for Sunday 18 March, when it is on at 4pm. Tickets: https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/tabarnak-af2018