For 40 years now, Beni Malone and his crew at Wonderbolt Productions have been sprinkling the magic of circus all over Newfoundland and Labrador. From their early years touring around some of the most isolated parts of the province via coastal boats, to growing into a full-fledged circus company that includes a staff of 10, a board of directors and a circus school/theatre/rehearsal space in downtown St. John’s, Wonderbolt has shown what can be achieved when you’ve got talent, tenacity and a great team backing you up.
Over the years, Wonderbolt has also produced a number of acclaimed circus shows, in addition to offering professional development workshops and social outreach programs, bringing the joy and wonder of the circus arts to those who may not otherwise be exposed.
Perhaps one of Wonderbolt’s biggest feats over the past few years is the St. John’s International CircusFest, which they host and co-produce. Now in its fifth year, the festival brings together world-renowned artists and companies for five days of circus magic. (This year’s festival runs from September 21-25.)
While awe-inspiring performances will take centre stage (including the North American premiere of “Muse” by Québec City-based troupe FLIP Fabrique; “Raven” by Berlin circus collective Still Hungry; the Edge of the World Cabaret directed by Patrick Léonard of the 7Fingers, hosted by Mooky and featuring live music by The Kubasonics; and an immersive experience at The Rooms featuring Tigris, Anke van Engelshoven, Nadine Louis and more), the event is as much about the business/technical aspects of circus with industry panels, workshops and keynote speeches. Participants, for example, can take in a therapeutic clowning conference and circus teacher exchange, and workshops in everything from clown theatre and contortion to handstands and silks. Technical director, lighting and stage designer Reinhard Bichsel will also host a three-hour workshop on circus lighting and rigging.
One of the highlights this year, taking place on September 22, is a keynote presentation from Quebec’s Sylvie Fréchette, Olympic gold medallist in synchronized (now artistic) swimming, who was also the lead choreographer of Cirque du Soleil’s show “O” in Las Vegas.
“Her story of resilience is incredible…That would be something for everybody to see. She’s just an incredible woman,” says Anahareo Dölle, co-founder, co-producer and artistic director of the St. John’s International CircusFest and owner of iFLY Aerial Arts.
Over the past five years, the festival has helped put the city on the global circus map, with people attending from all over.
“It’s just an amazing lineup of really world-class circus coming to St. John’s….we kind of combine local with the visiting artists, so it adds a really nice flair. We’re really about building community here. And I think a big part of why so many artists from away want to come here is just the destination is so great. People love coming to St. John’s,” says Dölle.
“We also have circus schools from across Canada that bring students…so they come and take the workshops and come see the shows and just be a part of the festival, so that’s really, really fun too.”
After living and working abroad for many years (including seven years in Berlin), Dölle says the St. John’s International CircusFest has given her the opportunity to share her love of the circus arts, while working alongside those who share that passion, including her dad Beni.
“I really wanted to bring more circus to Newfoundland. So that’s why I started the festival. And then having the school allows me to teach it, to expose people. It also helps grow an audience and grow people who are interested in circus,” she says.
“Of course, I admire Beni so much for (keeping) it going for so long and seeing his passion. I think we both have such a love for what we do, and for sharing that and performing and teaching. It’s really special to get to work with him and both live what we love the most.”
Click here to learn more about the St. John’s International CircusFest.