Oct 15, 2023

Everyday magic and international fare


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A world-champion hoop dancer, drag queen storytime, Tamil folk dancing, and a musical tale of love and human connection are four of 15 acts performing at this year's Winnipeg International Children's Festival, also known as Kidsfest.

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A world-champion hoop dancer, drag queen storytime, Tamil folk dancing, and a musical tale of love and human connection are four of 15 acts performing at this year's Winnipeg International Children's Festival, also known as Kidsfest.

This is the first time since COVID-19 swept the globe that organizers have been able to book international acts.

African circus troupe Kalabante, a dazzling act that incorporates music and dance, will make its Winnipeg debut at this year's festival. Aloft Circus from the U.S. are performing Brave Space, an immersive circus show under a blanket fort.

Alex Cairncross photos

Countries Shaped Like Stars is a musical story of love and human connection.

This is also the first time Kidsfest has returned to its pre-pandemic form. Last year, with protocols still in place, the festival — which takes place on the grounds of The Forks, split between the outdoor festival park and the two venues in Manitoba Theatre for Young People — ran with reduced capacity.

This year, each group will perform 42 shows over four days. Daily programming will remain largely similar; however, the opening show for each day will be different.

Festival director Neal Remple and his team can't wait to get started.

"We started to really use the theatre spaces (at MTYP) more, because it gives us more production values and broadens the template of work," Remple says. "We are not subject to extreme weather shutting down shows and venues; the show can go on, regardless."

Winnipeg musical legend Fred Penner, who has performed at the festival more than 36 times, says playing at Kidsfest is a delightful experience.

"The festival showcases a wonderful spectrum of human beings who have devoted their careers to a skill," he says. "Watching how a human can create something with just their bodies or a musical instrument, it's a really beautiful opportunity for a young audience in particular to get a different perspective on what life can be."


Fred Penner has performed at Kidsfest more than 36 times.

Countries Shaped Like Stars is a 45-minute play about love and connection, aimed at children ages six and up.

"It's a highly relevant show, especially after the pandemic, in a different way than it was before," says Emily Pearlman, who first wrote the text as a short story in 2008.

Pearlman and co-creator Nick Di Gaetano turned the story into a play a year later and toured it for seven years before taking a break.

"It's celebrating being together with people. We used music throughout as a storytelling tool; there are around six or seven songs in it. Music is played on a mandolin, wooden spoons, water glasses…" Pearlman says. "I think for young people, the message is that magic doesn't need to be big and complicated. It is accessible to you with the items that you have in your house.

"We do not have big flashy props; our intent was to use what we have in the room to build a beautiful story."


KidsFest 2022 ran at a reduced capacity owing to the pandemic.

For younger audience members, Tricoter by Foolish Operations is aimed at newborns to two-year-olds. Artistic director and choreographer Julie Lebel, making her festival debut, conceived of the idea in 2016.

"Tricoter, which means ‘knitting’ in French, is a special performance for the little ones," Lebel says. "This is a dance and music performance featuring violinist Clara Rose and dancer Isabelle Kirouac."

The show spins a yarn — literally.

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"We are pretending to be in a knitting circle… the dancer doesn't know how to knit, so she dances with the yarn. It's very colourful and thick yarn — babies love to see all the colours and the balls rolling and bouncing.

"As she dances with it, it becomes a big tangle of colours, and babies are (part of) this component. Some of them are exploring; they will come in to the space. We are prepared for that beautiful encounter. Some babies can't resist and just go in and that makes it a beautiful moment."

The performance itself lasts just 15 minutes. Afterwards the audience is invited to stay and play with the balls of yarn. Lebel says Tricoter is about revelling in the beauty of children. The intention of the show is to foster a "real moment" of togetherness in the group.


Tricoter create a knitting circle with a dance that unwinds through and around the audience.

"In the knitting circle we discover little ones," she says. "And sometimes we have grandmothers who come and knit during the performance; it brings generations together."

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AV KitchingReporter

AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.

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● The Forks

● Thursday to Sunday

● Full schedule and performance times at

● Tickets start at $13; free entry for children under 24 months.

● Tickets at

Lisa Odjig Hoop Dance

The dynamic and colourful Hoop Dance is storytelling and teaching dance: the hoops create symbols and designs of nature, such as plants, trees, animals and birds.

Won Ma Africa

Prepare to be amazed as the circus troupe Kalabante presents a short version of "Africa in circus." Astounding acrobatics and vertiginous human pyramids are accompanied by music and dance.

Brave Space

Build a blanket fort, sneak under a hoopskirt, start an impulsive congregation in a tiny tent. Give in to the wonder of a puddle of fabric pooled on the floor and let your imagination run wild in this wondrous and magical circus.

Madragat Phillipines

Traditional folk dance, ballet, jazz, martial arts, hip-hop, creative moment, poetry, theatre and music combine to showcase various aspects of Filipino culture.

Fay and Fluffy's Drag Queen Storytime

From the hit television series The Fabulous Show, Fay and Fluffy will spread their message of inclusivity, kindness, literacy and being proud of who we are from their colourful, cabaret-themed set.

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3:00 AM CDT Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023 $4.75 per week AV Kitching Five to watch Lisa Odjig Hoop Dance Won Ma Africa Brave Space Madragat Phillipines Fay and Fluffy's Drag Queen Storytime