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FLIP Fabrique’s Blizzard a winter's journey into the imagination

FLIP Fabrique, first-time performers at the International Children's Festival of the Arts, introduce the cool, acrobatic Blizzard
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Quebec circus troupe FLIP Fabrique introduces Blizzard at the International Children's Festival of the Arts taking place June 2 to 5. EMMANUEL BURRIEL/Photo

Here in St. Albert, we live with winter for six months of the year or more. We either hibernate or shovel snow and gripe about it endlessly. But do we really understand winter’s many nuances? 

Despite our dreaded experiences, Quebec’s circus company FLIP Fabrique, in its first visit to the International Children’s Festival of the Arts from June 2 to 5, will reveal a poetic side of winter. 

FLIP Fabrique’s Blizzard is more than just an arctic high sweeping across the Prairies in darkness, dispersing blistering winds and drifting snow. The one-hour production reveals the magic and humour of Canadian winters as witnessed from coast to coast.  

Blizzard is an ode to Canadian winters. There is no storyline. You see people covering themselves with scarves, schools closed during snowstorms, and people having snow fights. In terms of storytelling, Blizzard is a series of short vignettes. They are chapters of imagery,” said artistic director Bruno Gagnon. 

A dedicated graduate of École de cirque de Québec, Gagnon toured with Cirque du Soleil from 2005 to 2008. 

“I did what I could. But after 1,600 performances of a show, I asked myself if I should stay or make a move. I was 24 years old at the time,” said Gagnon, whose creative juices sorely needed a shot of fresh adrenaline. 

“In my mind, I needed to create all the time and do a show we wanted to do in the way we wanted to do [it],” he said. 

Gagnon put out the word he was starting a new troupe and circus performers from his old school quickly jumped on board. In a broad stroke, the colleagues wanted to develop top-tier acrobatics while delivering a humorous narrative and having fun. 

The company agent first introduced the idea for Blizzard by requesting a show for each season. But when Gagnon discovered a circus troupe from France was developing the same concept, the idea was scrapped. The creators instead focused on featuring a winter show, a theme familiar to every Canadian. 

“In this case, brainstorming became something else.” 

Blizzard first opened in Amsterdam in 2019, selling out 130 shows in the first nine months. A popular fixture at Fringe festivals, the one-hour show combines acrobatics, aerial dance, inline skating, juggling, music, visual theatre, and a hefty dose of clowning. Props range from hand-sized balls to a massive Plexiglas rectangular cube that fits several acrobats. 

“This is contemporary circus for the whole family. There are two levels of enjoyment. Kids love it like crazy, but there is also an added element of enjoyment for the adults.” 

Performers include seven acrobats as well as pianist-composer Ben Nesrallah. He composed a score that highlights the beauty, poetry, darkness, and spirit of winter. Throughout the show, Nesrallah plays live, closely tying the music’s pace to acrobats’ movements and timing. 

“He’s an amazing pianist. The music has a classical vibe, but it doesn’t sound like a recital. It’s a fusion, a mix of music and sounds,” Gagnon said. He added the piano is a one-of-a-kind instrument outfitted with loop pedals, drawers, and a smoke machine. 

For Gagnon, there is one major thing he hopes the audience will take away: “Every time we produce a show, on a certain level, we hope it changes your life or the way you think. If that happens, we’ve done our job. If you see Blizzard, you will see the world differently and that’s what we do. Our goal is to change people’s lives.” 

Blizzard takes place June 2 to 5 at the Arden Theatre. Tickets are $13 plus fees and are available online at www.stalbert.ca/exp/childfest/ or through the Arden box office at 780-459-1542.