Alberta Circus Arts Festival: “It’s Like Seeing Cirque du Soleil in Your Living Room”
The Circus is in town and, thanks to Annie Dugan, it's here to stay
By Liam Newbigging | June 21, 2023
Annie Dugan says Circus is “the celebration of what people can do.” While that may sound vague, it’s the kind of definition that earns its meaning when you put it into context — like when watching a woman perform aerial violin, or someone seamlessly rise and fall while gracefully entwined with silk, or two Australian Shepherds each jump up and walk on a rolling barrel. Clowns are part of it, too, and somehow it all fits under the same tent.
The second annual in-person Alberta Circus Arts festival makes its way to Edmonton’s French Quarter, and with it comes performers, panels and most of what you’d expect.
“They can balance, they can bend, they can flip, they can do things that that make you feel excited and hopeful and giddy when you watch it,” says Dugan.
Twenty years ago, she brought the circus to town when she moved here from the United States. Edmonton, Canada’s festival city, charmed Dugan. “If you come to Edmonton in the summer, for the first time, unlike the winter, and you come to a festival, it’s just glorious,” she says.
Her first festival here was in 1997, and she was awed by our famous Street Performers Festival. The following year, she was enticed by The Fringe. By 1999, she was living here full-time and would soon set up shop with the very first circus arts school in Edmonton, Firefly Theatre and Circus.
After over two decades of teaching, performing, and bringing acrobatic phenoms to Edmonton, the city now has a thriving circus arts scene with three schools and many performers, and it’s Dugan’s goal to keep growing it. “That’s why we’re trying to build a circus arts festival in Edmonton, because I believe that Edmonton can become a hub in Western Canada for circus arts.”
The festivities aren’t limited to performances. Dugan is bringing a slew of professionals who can awe visually but also teach. There will be something for anybody interested in the circus, whether you’re first starting out in beginner workshops or you’re a skilled artist looking to develop your network and get the word out.
Edmonton’s French Quarter, located by the University of Alberta Campus Saint-Jean, is a natural fit for this growing festival and community. Dugan says “French is the language of circus,” and the many Francophone and bilingual businesses, restaurants and venues help make many of the guest performers feel welcome and at home. Not to mention the spaces are excellent for both performances and workshops.
“The theatre at La Cité Francophone is, to me, the most wonderful space to perform or see Circus,” says Dugan. With an intimate setting that includes 196 seats and two balconies, Dugan says, “It’s like seeing Cirque du Soleil in your living room.”
In the meantime, before the festival kicks off, Dugan is busy getting everything together. After our chat, Dugan says she needs to find a billet who can host a clown and her chickens. “We can’t put the chickens in the hotel,” she says. “Otherwise, that would be easy.”