Categories: Entertainment

Children’s festival reviews – updated May 31

The Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival is all about bringing world arts, culture and heritage to our little bit of the world.

One of the largest children’s festivals in North America, it is St. Albert’s flagship of cultural events. During the past year organizers have put a lot of thought into creating a magical world of fun that carries on until Saturday.

With 90 main stage performances and 100 site presentations, the whirlwind of activity can be a tad overwhelming. So the Gazette is simplifying choices by reviewing the major ticketed shows.

Daily reviews (with ratings based on a possible five stars) will be posted below.

Save-On-Foods Stage (Arden Theatre)

Ages seven and over

4.5 stars

I have to admit I’ve always hesitated attending clown shows. I’d seen too many jokers squirt water from a plastic lapel flower for a quick laugh. And after a while the repetitive gags just became too lame.

But Aga-Boom is in a class by itself. The Las Vegas-based troupe, formerly veterans of Cirque du Soleil with a grounding in Ukrainian-Russian circus arts, have created a side-splitting performance laced with a heavy dose of chaos and pandemonium.

The main hallmarks of its success are novel sketches seamlessly stitched together, sophisticated acting, meticulous technique, impeccable timing and a fluid pace that leaves room for improvisation.

The act has three characters: Aga (Dimitri Bogatirev), Boom (Iryna Ivanytska) and Dash (Phillip Briggs). It begins with the blonde-spiky wigged Boom doggedly sweeping the stage.

The curious Boom gets distracted by a button that reads “Do not touch.” Temptation wins and she pushes it. An alarm rings. Lights flash, a rocket ship launches and the mayhem erupts faster than a bullet train. A peeved astronaut (Briggs) rushes in and the clowns face-off non-stop.

In later instalments, Aga performs a clever juggling act with a suitcase and is a whiz at whipping a toy plane around his neck with surprising dexterity.

At no point do the clowns talk. But they have developed a language of grunts, mewls and squeaks that speak more eloquently than words.

In addition to their innocence, the clowns evoke a dark humour where Aga and Boom play a game of hide and seek separated only by a paper backdrop. Boom thinks a brute is taunting her. She stabs her broom through the paper. Aga, whose arms are only visible through the paper, cries out and collapses.

Later a man selected from the audience dressed in a Napoleon costume is repeatedly shot by the moustachioed Dash in a hilarious series of movie takes directed by Aga.

But it’s the rip-roaring, balloon-bouncing finale that’s a must-see. It’s loaded with crowd participation and one you will never forget.

– Anna Borowiecki

Figura Theatre of Iceland

Ă©cole Father Jan

Ages five and over

3.5 stars

Bernd Ogrodnik, the master puppeteer of Figura Theatre gives the young charges at Metamorphosis the gift of silence. In this increasingly fast-paced world so dependent on gadgetry, he stresses the need for tranquility and reflection.

To that end, Ogrodnik rarely speaks and it is the lack of vocalization coupled with his top tier skill as a marionette manipulator that captivates crowds at Ă©cole Father Jan.

Using intricately hand-carved marionettes, Metamorphosis features a spell-binding collection of gentle scenarios that emphasize beautiful, wispy imagery.

In one sketch, he intertwines his hands to form a creature that looks like a dwarf, which brews a nose-lengthening potion. In another quasi-spiritual skit, Mother Earth floats toward a planet and creates a tree of life with flowers, birds, fish, animals and finally man. While Genesis comes to fruition, Louis Armstrong sings the famous What a Wonderful World in the background.

One of the most endearing and funny scenarios is of a child who is tucked in bed and dreams of gracefully galloping across a star-lit sky on his horse. In yet another breathtaking skit of an Olympic hurdler, instead of using raw speed, Ogrodnik employs a slow-motion technique that successfully builds raw tension.

In this show, it’s not so much what you see as how you see it. Some advice: The puppets are small and the seats at the far back make it difficult to see the action intimately. Arrive early for a good seat at the front.

– Anna Borowiecki

St. Albert Children’s Theatre

Senior Citizens’ Club

All ages

3 stars

Only in The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley will you see a run-of-the-mill 10-year-old boy get flattened by a bulletin board, fly like a kite, be stuffed into an envelope and get mailed throughout the world.

In this musical travelogue Stanley Lambchop is a pretty ordinary boy who yearns to be a hero and travel the world looking for adventure. One night during a sleepover, a star falls from the sky and he makes a wish.

Once everyone is asleep, the bulletin board above his bed cackles that his wish will be granted. During the night the board falls on Stanley and flattens him.

Life changes instantly. His mom takes him to the doctor and the cool kids try to fly him like a kite. Finally Mrs. Catero, the letter carrier, suggests that since he is now paper thin, why not put himself in an envelope and travel the world.

Taking her advice, Stanley reaches Hollywood and is signed on by a film agent. He then goes to Paris where he thwarts a robbery at the Louvre before heading off to Hawaii to star in a surfing movie.

Although the storyline zigs and zags, St. Albert Children’s Theatre packs the show with excitement and energy. The songs have an upbeat vibe from the opening I Wish I Were to the sparkly soft-shoe tapper Talent and onto the Beach Boy groove of Surfin’ The Mail.

At times the plot really stretches the imagination, but ultimately it delivers powerful messages about discovering yourself, the importance of family and making the best of any situation.

– Anna Borowiecki

Solid State Breakdance

St. Albert Curling Club

Ages six and over

3 stars

The shiniest coin in today’s dance world has got to be breakdancing. This rebellious urban street dance is the voice of youth, and the St. Albert Curling Club was packed with school-age children Wednesday itching to see Solid State Breakdance break fresh boundaries.

In Breakdance for Solo Cello the four Bboys and Bgirls powered their normally edgy moves to Bach’s timeless suites performed by cellist Tito Janssen.

Not many troupes would have the artistic flair to pull it off, but Solid State has just the right dose of flash and flamboyance.

It was unusual and intriguing to see to say the least. Present were the attention-grabbing moves – popping and locking, drops, backspins, flips, back-bends and cartwheels. But the melodic cello’s notes were lazy and rounded, and the normally angular dance moves took on a graceful, balletic quality unlike any other.

Some of the younger children in front of me, probably used to seeing Bboying with fast, sharp movements were getting restless in their seats.

But when the music shifted to pop electronica the momentum picked up. The moves jolted into hyper drive and everyone’s attention was riveted to the head spins, freezes and showy nature of the routine.

Towards the end, the Bboys invited members of the audience to come on stage and strut their stuff. Almost every kid in the audience put up their hand. And those who didn’t get a chance to spin a few moves joined in the Q & A that closed the show.

A very good interactive show for music and dance fans.

– Anna Borowiecki

Théâtre Tout Ă  Trac

Ă©cole Father Jan Stage

Six years and over

4.5 stars

This re-envisioning of the Lewis Carroll classic takes the audience into the girl’s imagination. Alice isn’t interested in doing her homework, only reading her stories. There, head in a book, she falls right in and meets some quirky characters along the way.

We still get the Queen of Hearts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the mischievous, somewhat scary Cheshire Cat … not to mention the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, and the trickster White Rabbit. Some new friends join in on our heroine’s adventures here too, with Humpty Dumpty and cowardly Captain Snark who saves her from an ocean of tears.

Her journey is an important one: she must find the White Rabbit again and return its gloves. If the queen catches the animal then she will order its head removed. She, by the way, has a fantastic bouffant red hairdo.

The caricatures are strong and colourful, and the set design is ingenious. There is only one set piece, Alice’s immense bookcase. Book spines shift around, letting characters enter and exit. Other shelves act as puppet theatre stages, and some of the books themselves open up to become important pop-up props (some sprout large enough to become picnic tables and full-sized doors). It’s enough to spark the imagination of even the stodgiest grown-up.

There was a special French presentation (called Alice au pays des merveilles) of this show on Wednesday morning, but all others will be conducted in English. Even en français, it is a gorgeous and delightful rendering of a child’s tale.

Scott Hayes

Corbain Visual Arts and Dance & Lightwire Theater

St. Albert Curling Club

All ages

3 stars

Put a young child in a dark room and hand him a glow stick and he or she will be entertained for hours. The premise behind The Ugly Duckling, running at the St. Albert Curling Club, is essentially the same, except the puppets wear the glow sticks, not the kids.

Every costume in this dark-and-light production is covered in fluorescent lighting and the show takes place in a near-pitch-black venue. The Ugly Duckling is actually two fables in one – first the audience is treated to The Tortoise and The Hare before viewing a new interpretation of The Ugly Duckling – this one involving a duckling-hungry cat and shunned but loyal water bird.

The stories are told only through the actions of the fluorescent puppets and accompanying music. The puppets are fascinating to watch and in some instances larger than life. Most of the puppets are actually lighted costumes worn by a performer, but others are manipulated simply by hand. Unfortunately, the venue sometimes gives this secret away as an opening and closing exterior door lets in just enough sunlight to betray the presence of the performers on stage.

There were a handful of abrupt musical cues and a couple of stretches of the show that carried on too long for most of the six-and-under crowd, notable by the number of bums wiggling in seats. But these two fables, told only with light and movement, were pleasant to watch and are definitely worth seeing.

– Peter Boer

Save-On-Foods Stage (Arden Theatre)

Two years and over

4 stars

The Monkey Bunch is a rock band for toddlers that delivers a high-energy show, like Raffi combined with the Rolling Stones, that should have your little one up and dancing.

The four-piece band from Toronto carries with it an environmental message, but it comes through subtly as they don’t forget their audience just wants to dance and sing.

In their first performance of the festival, children of all ages were up and dancing by the end of the show and even a few parents and teachers got in on the action.

Lead singer Shoshana Sperling engages with the crowd throughout the show and gets kids engaged with the performance, dancing in their seats and singing along. At the very end of the show she even did a monkey impression of her own, running through the whole theatre, to literally reach kids in their seats.

The band re-interprets classic children’s songs like No More Monkeys Jumping On The Bed and the Little Teapot, while also bringing their own originals like the salsa number Poopie Diaper.

Young or old, if you can’t find your way to having a good time at The Monkey Bunch, you’re just not trying.

– Ryan Tumilty

Erth Physical and Visual Theatre

Standard General Tent

Millennium Park

Ages five and over

4 stars

If the munchkin crowd’s screams of delight and terror are any indication of Dinosaur Petting Zoo’s popularity, it is definitely a runaway Jurassic success.

On its first tour of Canada, Erth Physical and Visual Theatre from Australia debuted its incredibly life-like dinosaurs and a blow-up set that mirrors a temperate rainforest.

Slow to start, with a few deadly dino jokes and two cute baby Dryosaurs wrapped in blankets, the show picked up steam when a German shepherd-sized Leanellynasaura hopped into the Standard General Tent.

This particular dino had a penchant for sniffing and ferreting out smelly feet. It had also picked up conjunctivitis, and almost every child in the Standard General Tent raised its hands when invited to medicate its eye. One lucky little girl even put it into a trance.

But the star was a T-Rex measuring six metres from head to tail. It roared, reared its scaly head and opened a gigantic mouth revealing pointy choppers and a large flicking tongue.

One little girl faced a moment of paralyzing truth when asked to feed T-Rex some stinky guts. And another little boy, scrunching with a mix of bravado and fear, allowed the ringleaders to put his head into T-Rex’s mouth.

But T-Rex was far from predictable and in one scary moment was poised to attack, to the crowd’s fearful but gleeful screams.

Accompanied by some fossil-finding facts, this show releases the power of the imagination, a hefty dose of humour and gives us a taste of a 65-million-year-old savage world where spiders were as big as cats. It’s a great giggle that will leave you in a state of wonder at the magic of puppetry.

– Anna Borowiecki

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