Les Farfadais: When Circus Art Changes The World
By Liam Klenk
The international acrobatic circus company Les Farfadais performed in Sitges, Spain, in the summer of 2020. Les Farfadais have a unique history and have grown from a single duo of acrobats to a company with over 50 artists around the world. While they are creating beautiful acts and shows, they are also changing the world as we know it.
The Story of Les Farfadais began in 1998 in Paris when the brothers Stéphane and Alexandre Haffner founded their own circus.
This original duo has today grown into a circus company with more than 50 artists from around the world. They have their own training studios in Alpes-Maritimes and Barcelona and a sewing workshop where all their costumes are handmade.
Le Farfadais perform regularly in Europe, the United States, as well as on cruise ships.
Even in this turbulent, pandemic-stricken year for the entertainment industry, Les Farfadais managed to prevail and perform for almost 3 months in Sitges, Spain, from July to September 2020.
Founder Stéphane Haffner chatted with me about these memorable three months, the involuntary yet fortunate widening of Les Farfadais’s target audience, and his artistic vision.
My brother Alexandre and I created Les Farfadais in 1998. At first we performed only as a duo. We were successful, yet small.
Then, in 2015 we participated in Italy Got Talent.
The finale was live. At the end of the act, I proposed to my husband. It was as much a surprise to him as it was to everyone else. A moment we will both never forget.
I have the video for you here:
It immediately went viral. The next day already, we were known all over the world.
My proposal on live Italian television became a huge deal especially because at that time, in Italy, there were still no LGBT rights at all.
It is as if our moment on screen started an avalanche of awareness towards that fact. And 6 months later, the EU said to Italy, “You have to do something.” A short while later the civil union was finally legalized for homosexual couples in Italy.
We became gay icons and were invited to gay pride parades all over the world.
Atlantis Cruises, an annual cruise ship charter exclusively for the gay community also invited us to join them as guests onboard.
That’s when we met Rich Campbell, the owner of Atlantis Cruises. And we asked him, “Why don’t we do a full show design for Atlantis?”
This was how AirOtic, our first LGBT circus project was born. It was at the end of 2015.
On that Atlantis cruise, we met a producer. He is the founder of Logo TV based in the US, which is producing all kinds of LGBT shows. We are part of his portfolio now.
2 years ago, we began performing the AirOtic show in the US.
Then, in 2019 we began working towards having a double cast for AirOtic. To be able to have one show in the US and one in Europe.
This concept was supposed to go into operation this summer. One AirOtic show in Provincetown Massachusetts, which is a very gay-friendly town. The other AirOtic show in Sitges, Spain.
Provincetown didn’t happen because of the pandemic. Sitges almost didn’t happen.
The theatre that we had booked for our show in Sitges became impossible due to Covid19 regulations. So we tried to find a solution. And, thankfully ended up finding an outdoor space, like a patio, at a school.
I set up the whole rigging for the outdoor show.
It was a catholic school. As soon as they found out what the show was about, they wanted to shut us down. I wondered what to do, to find a way to go ahead, and asked them, “Can we make a compromise? Make it a little less sexy, more family friendly? And instead of AirOtic, we’ll call the show Equality.”
The school agreed, and amazingly, for us too, it was a really good experience opening the show to a family friendly audience. We still kept the gay theme of the show, and there was still sensuality. It was just all a tiny bit less out there.
A lot of kids came to the show. They started asking their parents questions. So it opened up conversation about a topic these parents might otherwise never have spoken to their kids about.
Someone said to me, “This is the show I would have loved to see when I was 12 and 13 years old. Because it would have made my life easier.”
In an interview, I stated, “Every single family should come to see us. Because it is a nice way to talk about the LGBT world. It is a moment of happiness. You just come to enjoy the show. When you learn with amusement, it is always so much easier than in a different way.”
At the end of August 2020, we were given permission by the city of Sitges to move from the outdoors space into the theatre. The whole month of September 2020, we performed in the El Retiro theatre in Sitges.
Our entire run from July 10 to end of September 2020 really was a great experience for us all. We are definitely happy with this version of our show.
In the years to come, we want to keep going with both AirOtic and Equality.
Right now, we are working to bring the show to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands in November/December 2020.
We had the good news yesterday that the quarantine for the islands has been cancelled. So now they are expecting more tourists to come in the winter.
I found a local producer there as a partner who is going to help me set up the entire show.
Everything is complicated at this point. It was hard to get the shows together this summer. The city didn’t want to let us do it because of the pandemic. At one point we were completely illegal. But we kept on performing. They sent the police who wrote a report.
We kept on going anyways. More and more people came to see the show and they saw the quality.
In the end, the mayor even came to congratulate us and told us, “You were brave to keep the culture alive in these hard times.”
Plus, being outside, we could easily social-distance people. It was far more secure than sitting in a restaurant or a bar. And that’s exactly what the police said as well when they came to check us out, “We can’t shut you down, because you’re not putting anyone at risk.”
So they just wrote their report and left it up to the city to decide what to do. Thankfully, the city decided to let us continue.
Overall, it was a big adventure.
We worked a lot. To put all this together was also a huge investment.
In some ways, this year also had its positive points. It was a good change of pace to not be able to perform all over the world. In any regular year, I would have been all over the place. Which is nice but also stressful and exhausting. Your mind is all over the place.
This year, for the first time in years, I was able to come home to myself as well.
And it was good to spend time in my actual home. I live in Barcelona, not far away from Sitges. So I was able to spend time at home every night.
Thank you dear Stéphane for this wonderful interview. We wish you only the very best for the coming years!
Here, excerpts from an article from July 2020, in the Sitges local paper:
“Le Farfadais come with a new production, “Equality, the Circus for Everyone,” to bring illusion, entertainment, and life to our city.”
“And yet, they also come to reach the family audiences in a unique, elegant and pedagogical way. An opportunity to educate children in the values of equality and diversity.”
“Equality unites, through different acrobatic disciplines. A physical performance highlighting the beauty of the human body and its sensuality. A journey that will leave no one indifferent, but rather evoke emotions. Equality as a common good in a world that is becoming more fragmented every single day.”
“Are we talking about circus, cabaret, burlesque? Rather, it is the particular recipe of Les Farfadais, which combines the splendor of acrobatic beauty with technical purity and strength.”
“The numbers of acrobatics with ropes, clothes, water, fire, strength, sensitivity and beauty are sure to surprise you and the show will be one of the unavoidable activities this summer in Sitges.”