The circus returns to In the House Festival

Musicians, acrobats, shadow puppets invade homes and backyards on Commercial Drive

PETER Boulanger isn't sure whether his circus company's 34-foot tall marionette will make it to the In the House Festival.

But the Underground Circus's 23-foot-tall freestanding tower will definitely dominate a backyard near Commercial Drive for the grand finale of the 10th anniversary festival that will animate homes and yards June 7 to 9.

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"It's a very fun festival. We've done it a few times and it's always been a great time," says Boulanger, cofounder and co-director of Underground Circus.

"For us (the best part is) being with the public and being part of such a wonderfully iconic Vancouver organization. They've created all sorts of weird little quirky things over the years and we love being part of that kind of stuff," Boulanger says. "We are pretty much the top corporate circus company in town, which means most of time people don't see our work. So it is fun to be able to say, 'Hey look. We exist.'"

Much of the aerial acrobatics in the grand finale show are set to music from B.C., including the crooning of Michael Buble, the folk music of Pied Pumkin and 1980s pop hits of Doug and the Slugs.

"We'll be showcasing a lot of our unique (acrobatic) apparatuses and it's kind of fun to be doing that with the work of B.C. musicians," Boulanger says.

Underground Circus celebrated its own 10th anniversary this year. Boulanger and his wife, Ninon Parent, studied at the National Circus School in Montreal, toured with Cirque du Soleil for a couple of years and then decided to settle near Burnaby, where Boulanger grew up.

Underground Circus's shows include acrobatic feats, contortionists and often comedy, but its work differs from Cirque du Soleil in that it doesn't employ fantasy characters like those that populated most of Cirque's early shows, according to Boulanger.

"We're almost always just people," he says.

"And I always tell people Cirque du Soleil is our competition," he quips. "So far they're winning.

Boulanger's speciality at the moment is his chair-balancing act. He likes to stack chairs atop a table and stand on his hands up to 15 feet in the air.

"I've adapted my chairs so they actually can get stacked up in weirder ways," he says.

Boulanger loves forms and shapes, and everyday sights such as a tangled wire on his desk often inspire the unique apparatuses used by Underground Circus's acrobats.

He taught himself to weld and then started fashioning different shapes such as the "Triceau," three rings welded together, upon which two acrobats, stand, extend from and hang from one another.

Festivalgoers who like making their own shapes will be able to do so at other In the House events. Tenth anniversary festivities include a "Shadow Jam" on Saturday where audience members craft shadow puppets with the Vancouver-based shadow puppet duo Mind of a Snail, improvise a story and pick up instruments to accompany the show. The milestone festival also includes a free community potluck on Lily Street Sunday morning complete with roving performers, square dancing and street hockey. Music, dance, magic, comedy and burlesque performances fill the festival weekend across 13 homes and yards.

"I can't really think of a better way to have a finale than with an amazing circus with a 20-foot tower that they can do aerials on," says the festival's artistic director Myriam Steinberg, who is excited the performance's accompanying music will be B.C. themed.

"They performed last year for the finale and were one of the biggest hits that we've had at the festival," she adds. "There's a magic that's attached to circus that you don't really have in the same way with other acts. It's kind of life the big fireworks at the end of the festival."

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