Review: ‘Blizzard’, a Refreshing Ode to Winter, Community, and Play

Contemporary circus company FLIP Fabrique presents its world premiere at TOHU until January 5th

Photo Credit: Sébastien Durocher

Contemporary circus company FLIP Fabrique presents its world premiere of Blizzard, a poetic, playful production celebrating the beauty of winter. Elegant acrobatics take the stage amid flurries of snowflakes to celebrate Quebecois identity and the sense of community that keeps us warm in the coldest weather. 

Director Olivier Normand compares this production to a snow-day, a temporary escape from reality, indulging in the light-hearted joy, beauty, and playfulness of winter. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see many facades of winter explored, not just the cheery excitement of childhood. Winter brings fun and games, but also isolation, containment, a greater need for community, a necessary attention to safety, and a trickster-like torment to those who yearn for summer. The theme even calls attention to climate change and the collective responsibility to the melting ice caps. Blizzard subtly touches on these different relationships to winter, with an undertone of hope and awe.

Photo Credit: Sébastien Durocher

Integral to this production’s vivid imagery is its stellar sound design. The action is complemented by one-man live-accompaniment on a trick piano, hiding keyboards and other gadgets within its elegant carved-wood exterior. The resulting musical score is a bouncy, jazzy, ambient blend of acoustic and electronic sounds. Additionally, strategically sampled sound effects create extremely vivid imagery within the minimal set: ice cracking under one’s feet, rocks skipping on a frozen lake, kids playing outside in fresh morning snow, glaciers crumbling into the sea. 

The set is comprised of an unassuming, but visually versatile, giant box. Set designer Marie-Renée Bourget Harvey creates a sublime atmosphere of snow and smoke (evoking swirling clouds of breath or dry ice). Lighting designer Caroline Ross effectively creates many different moods, especially within the various acts. Each scene is made up of many tight transitions and tableaus, keeping the audience’s attention with different perspectives on the same act.

As in any circus show, there is the issue of safety mechanisms onstage. Rather than hiding the “behind the scenes,” the ensemble performs set changes swiftly and dutifully, like shovelling snow. Their collective manual labour, which allows them to play safely and to the fullest, mirrors the way communities are brought together by braving the perils and chores of winter. Despite all safety precautions, circus shows also have the occasional close call—bringing onlookers together in a gasp of worry, like slipping on an icy sidewalk. 

Photo Credit: Sébastien Durocher

Every act is not only physically impressive, but also extremely creative in their use of props. Who knew you could do so many tricks with scarves? Or juggle snowballs with shovels?

One act in particular, an aerial duet, sums up the strengths of this show perfectly. As the aerialists glide through the air with the elegance of ice skaters, the other performers pull a rope across the stage to lift them into the air. This simple task of manual labour becomes an equally important part of the choreography, overlaying a collective synchronicity and unity onto the duo’s tender chemistry. 

A series of clown acts infuses the show with light-hearted humour to contrast the poeticism. Thanks to infomercials by the “Ministère du Froid,” we learn how to bundle up for the cold and what not to do when faced with the irresistible temptation to lick the ice.

Photo Credit: Sébastien Durocher

The show takes a melancholy turn, as the box is turned vertical, resembling a dismal grey high-rise with a solitary person climbing to the top, stepping to the edge, and eventually jumping off. The act silently speaks to relying on each other and embracing oneself when feeling weighed down by seasonal depression. While depicting this dark side of winter, the show remains hopeful, turning the fatal fall into a game or a duet.

The production lacks a strong beginning, and could greatly benefit from an immersive pre-show design to enliven the set and introduce the visual world. Overall, however, the design, the acrobatics, and the themes coalesce into an impressive and entertaining experience. The show’s visual poetry, simple humour, and impressive acts are quite accessible and sure to delight audiences of all ages. It might even make you look forward to going outside again. As the vocalist wisely remarks, “Winter heals in a way we do not know.”

Blizzard presented by Flip Fabrique at TOHU
December 17th, 2019 – January 5th, 2020
Tickets ($22 – 40): 514.376.8648 |

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