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Husband-and-wife team performing at Kidsfest marry acrobatics, clowning

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Did you ever get the impression that life was just a big hamster wheel?

You run and run and you don't seem to get anywhere.

If you've ever felt that way, don't expect Dominique Major to commiserate. She spends much of her work life operating a human-sized hamster wheel. And it's always a blast.

Major is one half of the acrobat-comedy troupe The Mat Velvet & Charlie Show, an old-school vaudevillian entertainment featured in the 2013 edition of Kidsfest this weekend at The Forks.

The show's blend of clowning and acrobatics features Major's husband, Martin Varallo, as buffoonish MC Mat Velvet. Sporting baggy overalls, sunglasses and a bushy moustache, Major first appears in the show as "Little Charlie," Mat's comic flunky, before Major shucks her disguise and demonstrates her proficiency on not a hamster wheel but the "German Wheel" -- a large double ring which she rides, spins and manipulates with amazing skill.

Major and Varallo used to perform separately, Major says, before the birth of the first of two daughters.

"Both of us have travelled the world, but when we had a child, we decided to combine our skills together and create The Mat and Charlie show," she says on the phone from Saskatoon, where they are performing at the Saskatchewan Children's Festival.

Major says the show obliged her to do some clowning, which she finds "a nice complement" to her acrobatics.

"It's a different feedback from what I'm used to," she says. "I still enjoy my skills because I like to surpass my limits and push my body to see how far I can take it."

Somehow, it does not come as a surprise that Major is from Montreal. She says her hometown, the birthplace of Cirque du soleil, has a tradition of the acrobatic arts that distinguishes the city from the rest of North America.

"Montreal is a bit more close-knit to European arts and I think they tend to push that a little bit further," she says. "The National Circus School in Montreal is one of the best circus schools in the world. And the Cirque du soleil created this love of cirque. Within that, many little companies started.

"When you're in Montreal, you get to meet a lot of other circus performers and they tend to push you a little further," she says. "I have some friends who moved to Alberta and it's a very different vibe. (Audiences) don't know much about it and are easily impressed with the really basic stuff, whereas in Montreal, you have to be pushed continuously."

Major has done her German Wheel act for adult audiences but she finds performance for children to be a completely different kind of experience.

"We really enjoy the kids because they don't have any boundaries over their feelings," she says. "When you perform for adults, they don't applaud too loud but the little ones, they just scream. They have a really good time and it's contagious and we end up having a really good time onstage."

Find the Mat Velvet & Charlie Show in Tent A on Thursday, June 6, at 1 p.m., Friday, June 7, at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, June 8 at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., and Sunday, June 9 at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2013 C9

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