Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From the circus to the circuit

Dancer left Cirque du soleil to clown around at fringe festivals across the country

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It's a new day for Sandrine Lafond.

"I'm going through a metamorphosis," says the accomplished Canadian dancer, who is reinventing herself as a solo theatre artist.

Until she made her fringe debut this year with her five-star show Little Lady, Lafond spent her whole career dancing with professional companies, including Quebec's world-renowned Compagnie Marie Chouinard.

About 10 years ago, she moved to Las Vegas to dance in Celine Dion's concert production A New Day, which ran for five years. Then she toured in two Cirque du soleil spectacles, Delirium and Kooza.

Then, last year, Lafond was abruptly cut from a new Cirque show that was being developed.

"They said my character didn't really work anymore," she recalls by phone recently. "I totally agreed... but it was the first time in my life that I actually lost a job."

Although she says there were no hard feelings and she still performs in Cirque special events, it was a shock. A few months later, she turned 40. It was time to re-evaluate.

"I asked myself, 'What do I really want to do?'" says the unattached performer, who is originally from France. "I want to be myself... and create emotions in people."

She decided to create her own physical-theatre show, drawing on two years of studying clown technique. One of her teachers, John Turner of the clown duo Mump and Smoot, agreed to direct.

"Being a clown is basically discovering who you really are inside and accepting it, and showing it to the rest of the world," she says. "The things you don't like about yourself are always the ones that are going to be the most funny."

To her amazement, this first-time fringer hit the jackpot in this year's Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals international touring lottery. Her name was drawn as one of five acts that had their pick of the circuit, which includes some American fringes. She chose 10 festivals, for a total of 65 shows. She also received a Canada Council production grant.

Little Lady is a comic and grotesque fable about our obsession with body image. "Your body is not good enough" is the message we're bombarded with in advertising, Lafond says.

"Living in Vegas, you see so much plastic surgery, it's like a circus. (Implants and injections are) something dead, but they put it inside of them."

In the show, Lafond's clown character seems to be the subject of an experiment, like a lab animal. She is force-fed red pills and TV messages that gradually make her more youthful, curvaceous and sexy. Lafond thinks of her as sort of a giant insect.

"In my mind, she's half-human, half-cockroach. The audience are the scientists.... At the end, her body is back to normal and she can finally escape."

After so many years of performing in arena-size spectacles, Lafond says the best thing about the fringe's intimate venues is contact with her audience.

"I'm able to look at them in the eyes, to connect as a person to those other human beings, and have feedback after the show. That is really gratifying."

She is often asked what it was like to work with Dion in A New Day.

"She's the best boss I've ever had," Lafond says. "She's very down-to-earth. She doesn't act like a diva at all. She never complains.

"What I really learned with her is that when you want to be the best at what you're doing, just work and keep on working -- that's it.

"Some people that I worked with at Cirque, they've been to the Olympics. They have gold medals. And they have the quietest, smallest ego."

Little Lady is at the John Hirsch Mainstage (Venue 1), to Sunday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2012 G5

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