Photos C/O Suzanne Steenkist
On Feb. 16, the Hamilton Aerial Group is inviting the community to witness a story of wanderers with its sixth annual Winterfest cabaret show, La Nuit du Vagabond. Both one-hour shows will take place at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the third floor event space of the Cotton Factory.
The troupe wanted this year’s cabaret to be current and thus the performance’s individual aerial, acrobatic and puppetry acts weave a story of migration to a better place. Founder and artistic director of Hamilton Aerial Group, Lori Le Mare, was influenced by the displacement of people from war-torn countries.
“In particular I read about the exodus of people from Central America… and how it gained strength as people were moving and why they were leaving their homes… [I] guess just having that as a loose space for the story but not… preaching. You don’t want to preach but we just want to sort of reflect [on] what’s happening in the current times and then have people make up their own mind about how they feel about that,” Le Mare said.
The group brainstormed how to represent this underlying theme and came up with imagery such as emerging out of a tunnel. Le Mare instructed the individual performers to put themselves in the shoes of someone struggling to reach a better place so that the component acts form a narrative.
The cabaret was not always a narrative piece. When it started in 2014, the show took on a more traditional cabaret format with 5-minute musical and circus acts. It began as a way to raise funds to move into a new space and buy new equipment. From the first year, there was a strong positive response with over 500 attendees.
After a few years of a cabaret style show, the Hamilton Aerial Group changed the fundraiser to be more a narrative-driven theatrical performance without as many musical acts. The change was driven by viewers saying they wished to see more aerial acts.
“[I]t’s my love really to create a story… [W]e’d have a really interesting beginning and an interesting ending… but then we have all these other musical acts that didn’t really go with the sort of story that we were establishing by having a beginning and an ending… [W]e thought that if we could take out the musical acts and just have those aerial acts… we could have more of a narrative storyline throughout it,” said Le Mare.
The narrative is also supported by the elaborate costumes that the performers wear. The costumes are made by Hamilton Aerial Group member Tanis Sydney MacArthur and usually evolve out of ideas that were not used throughout the year.
Le Mare also likes to work with local artists in the creation of costumes for the show. She has a long-time collaboration with Hamilton activist, artist and puppeteer Melanie Skene who has made puppets and masks for the aerial group over the years. This year, local artist Colin Christopher Palangio will also be making headpieces for the stilt costumes.
Le Mare founded the Hamilton Aerial Group when she moved back to Hamilton after 23 years in Toronto. She became an aerialist while in Toronto and when she returned to Hamilton, began teaching classes through the Hamilton Association for Residential and Recreational Redevelopment Programs.
Teaching at HARRRP led to people asking Le Mare and those she taught to perform. This group of performing aerialists eventually developed into the Hamilton Aerial Group. People have come and gone over the years but the community that the aerial group created has endured.
“I think it’s a really good place for people to… deal with any kind of issues they might have… [W]hen you become really strong physically and you’re also in a group of strong, not physically strong but I think emotionally strong, women — and we are pretty much all women — then we just really support one another,” Le Mare explained.
Anyone is able to join the Hamilton Aerial Group as long as they have a passion for and willingness to learn the circus arts. Le Mare also recognizes that many viewers may not be able to see a large scale Cirque du Soleil show and strives to make her shows accessible.
The annual cabaret used to be pay-what-you-can but after having to scale down the number of attendees due to fire regulations, the show is now $28. However, there are a block of 30 tickets that are free for children under the age of 12. Le Mare hopes that in the future the annual cabaret will take place in a larger space so more people will again have access to the aerial storytelling of the Hamilton Aerial Group.