The 11th-annual HarbourKIDS festival delighted children with all sorts of circusy entertainment.
On Saturday afternoon, inside a Harbourfront Centre dressing room, the Zero Gravity Circus was getting ready to take the main stage for its first performance of Victoria Day weekend. Jen Gregopoulos, owner and director of The Circus Academy, a school that trains kids in the art of circus performing, was brimming with excitement. The performers, most of them teenaged girls, were already feeling the jitters, but it was nothing they hadn’t been through before.
“These kids all train at the circus academy, and we’ve put together a show called Alice. It’s an acrobatic show based on the story of Alice in Wonderland,” said Gregopoulos. “They’ve been training really hard for it.”
All of Lewis Caroll’s characters were there, in makeup and costume: The White Queen, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, and the caterpillar. Cirque de Soliel’s Courtney Stevens was hosting the performance as the Mad Hatter.
The performance was part of the HarbourKIDS festival, an annual kid-focused event that features circus performers, vaudevillians, and plenty of activities to keep the little ones entertained. It’s now in its 11th year.
Zero Gravity Circus’ Alice included a lot of aerial work on ribbons, ropes, and trapeze, but no death-defying stunts, since the performers were novices. The Circus Academy provides training in more advanced techniques and tricks if any of its students choose to learn them. Some of them do.
“We take them as young as two,” said Gregopoulos. “We’ve got full recreation programs. We do summer camp, March break camp, birthday parties, after-school programs, day-time programs. From that, kids audition to be part of the performing troupe.”
Zacada Circus School, from Stoney Creek, Ontario, also had students performing at this year’s HarbourKIDS festival. They gamely took to the trapeze and the silks.
Many quirky, kid-friendly characters were making the rounds of the festival grounds. Mullet the Dinosaur Adventurer took kids on a quest for dinosaur bones. “Clearly, I’m dressed as a paleontologist,” he said, with a gigantic Edmontosaurus bone in his hand. His face was painted white, with mossy green flakes glued around his hairline. There were red contact lenses in his eyes.
Princess Penelope Pamplemousse wove through the crowds in a rainbow-coloured tutu and striped tights. She got her start in Berlin, but after finding no love over there, she came to Toronto in search of her Prince Charming. “He is so late!” she said. “I’ve kissed frogs, ya know? I’ve bitten apples. I’ve found seven short guys and gave them all hats. I know how to French kiss. I watch Beyoncé videos,” she said.
A man with the stage name Rosco high-fived people with a giant, human-sized balloon gorilla that he’d strapped to his back. This was his fifth year, and each year he comes with a different animal. (He’d made the gorilla himself, out of 150 individual balloons.) Some of the kids in the audience were giving him a hard time, though, pinching and poking him when he wasn’t looking. The life of a circus performer, it seems, isn’t always fun and games.