Smiles and laughter

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Downtown tent city full of smiles during this year's children's festival; Gazette staff review early favourites

A quick scamper through the 30th annual Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival offers a non-stop flow of irresistible rhythms, flamboyant costumes and sparkling theatricality.

With Il Circo’s cirque production Viaggio, the five-day festival that runs until Saturday, is now festooned with an added dash of glitz and glamour — an element that was missing in previous incarnations.

Watching the little ones laugh and run with delight through the carnival-like, tent city located on the banks of the Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert, it’s obvious the festival is an event that can transform lives — be it with music, theatre, puppetry, dance or mesmerizing storytelling.

This year the festival has a particularly strong line-up of mainstage shows that celebrate children’s creativity and imagination in all its forms. Although adults create the shows, they speak with children’s hearts and voices in the passionate belief that anything is possible. Just step out of your comfort zone and dare to risk.

The St. Albert Gazette will be out in full force reviewing the shows. Daily reviews will be available online at www.stalbergazette.com.

Festival ticket prices are $8.50 to $10 with the exception of Viaggio at $20. They are available at the Arden box office, Lions Park satellite box office or online at www.ticketmaster.ca. For detailed information on productions and show times go online to www.childfest.com.

The Evolution of B-boying

Bboyizm
Standard General Tent
All Ages
Stars 4/5

The Evolution of B-boying is definitely a slice of cool on a hot day. This six-member mixed crew of Quebec street dancers is loaded with style, skill, self-expression and that distinctive attitude that makes break-dancing such a hot phenomena.

Completely in command of the open stage at the Standard General tent, they mesmerized a packed-to-the-rafters house of yakky kids. Crazy Smooth, nicknamed by another break-dancer, was our pilot as we time-travelled from the 1970s funk-filled era through to the birth of 1980s hip-hop and the present day’s iconic battles for dance supremacy.

While the history lesson was cleverly stitched together, it was pretty obvious from the non-stop round of raucous cheers that it was athletic prowess that defined the show — acrobatic leaps, splits, back flips, headspins, shoulder spins and a one-handed air flare.

In addition, the six street dancers not only displayed a remarkable physical resilience, they also bent over backwards, quite literally in some cases, to involve the audience. The best example was a gravity defying break-dancing competition between two teams where the audience acted as the judge.

Throughout the one-hour show, the street dancers kept groovin’ to music from Soul Train and electronica to modern hip hop, and they really looked like they were having fun. And that’s not a bad lesson for kids to learn — do what you love.

– Anna Borowiecki

Emilio and the Enchanted Cow

Marionetas de la Esquina
école Father Jan
Ages 5 and up
Stars 3/5

Parents are loaded with life experience, and they often forget that when you’re only eight years old, just getting through the day can be a big challenge.

Meet Emilio, a young boy whose parents have separated. He’s living in a new house, going to a new school and trying to make new friends. But Emilio misses his father, hates his new house, the block they live on and the new school he must attend.

On the first day of classes, he gets bullied by a meanie and develops a crush on a pig-tailed girl, but is too shy to tell her.

As a way of coping with the pain of missing his father, Emilio draws a picture of green cow and she magically comes to life. A bold, no-nonsense creature, she pushes Emilio to discover his strengths and helps him overcome his fears and bashfulness.

Produced and created by Mexico’s Marionetas de la Esquina, the vivid puppets are brilliantly manipulated by four skilful puppeteers completely robed in black. The spotlight is completely on the puppets, and at times they seem so alive as they discover the real meaning of friendship through moments of anger, frustration, sadness, reconciliation and joy.

At several points the plot seemed to lag and lose its energy, but the puppeteers pulled out the stops to reverse the slow momentum. This is a delightful show for little ones that packs a punch with a heartfelt message about trusting yourself.

– Anna Borowiecki

Viaggio

Il Circo
Save-On Foods Stage (Arden Theatre)
All ages
Stars 4.5/5

Il Circo’s Viaggio is one of the festival’s hottest tickets and for a good reason. Make that a great reason. The performance blends medieval Italian comeddia dell’arte posturing with modern acrobatic theatre à la Cirque de Soleil, all under the premise that we are witnessing a young girl being guided through the fair by a life-sized doll from a Jack-in-the-box.

The performers (hailing from Eastern Europe, Guatemala and the United States) have some serious talents. There are some amazingly strong acrobats who climb up and drop down the Chinese poles with enough grace to wow this crowd. One woman nimbly danced around with the aerial chiffon, spinning around and around so much that it not only made me awestruck but also induced nausea.

My favourites were the one guy who can stand up from the splits and the master of balance with the Mohawk hair. The guy in the German wheel made his act look so effortless that I thought that smaller versions should be installed in school playgrounds.

Then there’s the one crowd-pleasing performer who balances on steel cylinders and then does contortions with hoops. At one point, he sets up five cylinders, some straight up and others on their sides, pointed in different directions. He puts that all on a rotating disc and stands on top of the whole mess with just a plank. It’s mesmerizing.

If this show doesn’t make your jaw drop, what will?

– Scott Hayes

The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy

Slingsby Theatre
St. Albert Curling Club
Ages 8 and up
Stars 5/5

Here’s a production that really captivates an audience, young and old alike. Just don’t expect to laugh your way through it. When you finally get led into the show by the silent but wonderfully moustachioed assistant in bedraggled top hat and coattails, you are led to a tent within the building. Sitting close to the ground and the stage area, never has an audience of children fallen quiet so quickly in my experience. This was a special moment.

Cheeseboy is about a boy who lives on a planet made of cheese. One day, a meteor crashes and melts the world into fondue, but he survives by escaping on a boat. He lands on Earth’s shores and misses his family terribly. Lost and alone, he discovers the mysteries of the tide and learns about the secret power of the moon. With the help of a gypsy couple (one, an astronomer, and another an astrologer), he learns how to fly and be free.

This entrancing tale in seven chapters is told by a narrator who bears more than a passing resemblance to Eric Idle but the melancholy tone reminds us that this is nowhere near Monty Python. His quirky assistant added much levity to the proceedings.

The props are brilliant and are made brilliant use of in this endearing but tragic tale of a boy who loses his parents but becomes a man.

– Scott Hayes

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