Cirque Alfonse’s original performance, “Timber!,” turned the Irvine Barclay Theater into a woodland wonderland this past weekend. Cirque Alfonse drew a packed theater for their Friday night debut, an hour-and-a-half long spectacle of unbelievable circus stunts against a backdrop of Quebec folk music and lumberjack scenery, that was both unconventional and unforgettable.
Since its 2005 inception in the Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez province of Quebec, Cirque Alfonse has put together original shows with certified acrobats who have professional degrees in gymnastics and acrobatics. Each of their performers have worked on a wide range of shows and with various Cirque companies like Cirque du Soleil and Cirkus Cirkör of Sweden.
According to the Irvine Barclay program, “Timber!” is inspired by the exploits of the first North American lumberjacks, loggers and farmers.
The theater was well-decorated to reflect the theme, with the aroma of freshly-cut wood and pines infused in the air.
Dressed in khaki and plaid, the bearded performers took the dimly-lit stage amid stacks of wood, logs, cabins and handheld axes, which served as props for their stunts and scenes — all authentic and true to the lumberjack theme.
For the first act, all the acrobats cooked a stew, catapulting across chairs and tables, chopping heads of lettuce with handheld axes and tossing scraps of lettuce and potatoes mid-somersault into the audience.
Throughout the rest of the show, Cirque Alfonse’s stunts were exhilarating, as well as whimsical. In one act, an acrobat did backflips on top of a thin wooden beam held aloft by two other performers. Another act featured acrobats somersaulting over a chainsaw held up in the air. Later, one performer balanced two other performers laying horizontally on top of his head.
During one of their most awe-inspiring acts, an acrobat started swinging on a suspended swing and began to pirouette like a ballerina at breakneck speed. Her act then transitioned into a duo with another acrobat, with each one spinning and twirling and holding splits mid air. It was one of the more romantic acts of the show, all happening stunningly fast and captivating in its entirety.
The audience gasped and giggled throughout the performance, which was interspersed with moments of humor — the show’s grandfather character, Papa, being hoisted into the air on a trapeze while asleep, lumberjacks throwing rolls of toilet paper into the audience, and performers fumbling to stay balanced on top of rolling logs.
There are moments of tenderness, too — at the show’s close, Papa brings his four-year-old grandson onstage as the stage lights dim, and tells him that he was glad to share so many stories with him. The four-year-old performer — a child of one of the acrobats, who has been travelling with his family in Cirque Alfonse since he was six weeks old — ends the show with a somersault, and joins his family on stage to take their bows amid thunderous applause.
“Timber!” was a bit out of the ordinary scope of entertainment for Irvine, but that was what made it worth watching. The circus didn’t imitate anything else the Orange County theater circuit has ever seen.
A Quebecois lumberjack-themed circus is definitely a bizarre concept for a show, but Cirque Alfonse still managed to leave its mark and resounding applause at the Barclay.