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Having a Disco Ball! Interview with Antoine Carabinier-Lépine (BARBU, London Wonderground)

Barbu No balls about it. Antoine Carabinier-Lépine in his signature disco ball costume. Photograph: Idil Sukan.

Traditional circus meets avant-garde kitsch, I talk to Antoine Carabinier-Lépine, founder Cirque Alfonse: the troupe behind Timber! and BARBU.

Grumpy Gay Critic: Your last show, Timber! saw you juggling with very sharp objects like axes and saws. What are you bringing to Barbu to give this show a similar “wow” factor?

Antoine Carabinier-Lépine: BARBU is like a circus rave. The first part of BARBU is like an old cabaret with traditional circus skills. Then in the second part anything and everything can happen, its goes more wild with non-traditional circus skills. I’m a multidisciplinary acrobat and will be bringing my beard and craziness to the show so look out for that! It’s really a mix with music from our live band, circus and video as well.

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You spin me right round, baby, right round. Antoine Carabinier-Lépine. Photograph: Courtesy of Idil Sukan.

GGC: BARBU looks wonderfully and rampantly kitsch. Are you worried that, the fact that you’re all good looking men and women performing in make-up, often in underwear or dressed as glitter balls, is going to put some people off from coming to see BARBU?

ACL: Maybe…we hope that the audience are open minded and don’t judge just on our look. Our look doesn’t serve the show as the audience think at the beginning but you need to see the show to understand.

GGC: What’s the most outlandish and craziest outfit and/or routine you’ve ever performed in?

ACL: I think it’s my disco ball costume for my Cyr Wheel act in this show.

GGC: What’s the most thrilling thing about being part of such a diverse circus community?

ACL: You get to see the world and meet the nicest peoples and different cultures.

GGC: What’s the worst audience reaction you’ve ever had to BARBU so far? If none, has there been any particularly surprising reactions?

ACL: I think at the beginning the audience don’t really understand what’s going on. There is so much happening between the circus skills, the music and the video. But after couple of acts (and a couple of beers) the audience always go crazy! Sometimes people from the audience aren’t able to describe our show after seeing it because it’s something that you don’t expect and you don’t see often.

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Spit and sawdust. Members of Cirque Alfonse in ‘BARBU’. Photograph: Courtesy of Cirque Alfonse.

GGC: BARBU is all about looking at the roots of the Montreal circus scene in an incredibly modern way. But what do you think is still similar between modern circus shows and traditional big-top affairs?

ACL: I think people often enjoy the same thing now than they did before. They like to forget what they are doing at work, have a good time with friends and see some crazy dangerous stunts in a sexy funky atmosphere. Circus is all that and much more. It’s a mix of all the arts combined!

GGC: How much time is taken up on beard maintenance?

ACL: I wash it often and sometime I brush it but I am not a fanatic…

GGC: Have your beards even gotten in the way of any of the routines?

ACL: Oh yes! Often when we climb on each other or when you eat yogurt!

GGC: What are you looking forward to most about performing in the famous London Wonderground Spiegeltent?

ACL: I think it’s being part of that crazy community of London cabaret/freak shows/circus nightlife and to enjoy that special London feeling!

BARBU plays at London Wonderground, London, SE1 8XX until 25 September 2016. Tickets are from £26. To book, visit www.londonwonderground.co.uk.

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