Buskerfest Celebrates 25 Years
All photos by Andre Gagne.
“You look like the professional type,” the man calling himself the Pyromancer said, his wide-eyed gaze falling upon the camera slung over my shoulder. I admit, there may have been a tinge of madness in the look though what else might one expect from a guy who eats fire for a living?
He motioned me towards the middle of a circle formed by his audience, a mix of late Friday afternoon families that got caught up in the performance on their way to supper and other curious onlookers. As I neared the Pyromancer I could smell the kerosene that clung to him like a strange perfume. He wanted me to snap a photograph of him blowing fire, a burst of flame in my direction, he proclaimed, before his show’s theatrics got to out of control to photograph.
His breathing was heavy, a little wild and as he moved the flaming wand towards a mouth that was filled with flammable fluid I wondered what was more important to me: my camera or my eyebrows. Thankfully, both would survive the stunt but, between you and me, who needs eyebrows anyway?
Yup, the buskers are back in town!
I wasn’t expecting to be a part of the 2016 Ottawa International Buskerfest but, as if often the case with buskers, the audience becomes an integral part of the show. They can be rope holders for balancing acts, bowling pin tossers for jugglers or the lucky lady who gets to cling to Mexico’s Pancho Libre (“Grab on like a koala,” he urges, whatever that means) as both whirl around Sparks Street in a giant metal hoop.
Of course, the crowd cheers that attract more potential donors to the end of show profits are also pretty key for these performers who are only paid whatever the crowd decides the show was worth.
“I risk my life for your entertainment,” says Pancho before the climactic pole-top headstand above the crowd that served has his act’s grand finale.
Pancho, whose real name is Francisco, has traveled the world studying circus, training up to 50 hours a week with acrobats and other performers to hone his craft. To him and the other performers at the 25th Anniversary of the festival busking is serious work and is not to be looked upon as something that isn’t at a real job.
The work often takes many grueling hours a week of training, a few burns and cuts along the way, and a crafting of skill to work a crowd not only with the act but, also, some well-placed comedy in hopes that a few laughs will earn a couple of extra bucks at the end of the show.
Street performance has been around as long as there have been streets to perform on but the word “busking” dates back to 1860s Great Britain. The term derives from the Spanish word meaning “to seek”. Performances can really be anything that attracts a crowd from clowning, puppeteering, mime, magic and acrobatics. Many of these are represented at this year’s festival.
There’s Montreal’s Throw 2 Catch, the 2015 People’s Choice Award Winners wowing crowds with their acrobatics since the 90’s. Comedic Contortionist Bendy Em has come all the way from Australia to get bent out of shape here in Ottawa. Back again with glam, glitter and a lot of glitz are the Silver Starlets high above the street on their 20 foot high free-standing aerial rig, twisting and tumbling. Sean Bridges, also known as Bike Boy, brings his bike stunt show to the festival.
Banjo Circus, a duo from England and Switzerland, combines music and acrobatics. You can also check them out performing a strength show as Popeye and Olive. Bluto cameos.
Other festival acts this year include hooper Satya Bella, festival favourites The Cow Guys and, back again for more leaps and laughs, the duo of Canadian Olympic Trampoline performer Heather Ross-McManus and her zany husband Sean. There’s also one of the most sought out magicians on the planet, Gazzo. Various vendors are set up between the stages with the amazing full on extreme face-painting makeover by Kromatik sure to delight the kids.
Be sure to pick up a 25th Anniversary Souvenir Program for full show listings over the next two days of the festival.
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