A Cirque Nutcracker is the traditional tale with a twist, the original story presented in a humorous new way! A seasonal production at the Mesa Arts Center in Phoenix, AZ featuring Troupe Vertigo and the Phoenix Symphony, one word to describe A Cirque Nutcracker is ‘creative.’ The choreography, the storyline adaptation, and use of costumes to accentuate movements were all very inventive. As a lover of glitter, I adored the shiny and sparkly costumes. The main acrobat’s costume was wisely and carefully crafted. Her black and white striped tights emphasized her bizarre flexibility.
I found it comforting and inspiring as an aerialist to hear the crowds’ gasps whenever the entertainers displayed their unordinary talents. The passion and determination each artist held was revealed through their art. The performers were not the only impressive piece of the show, however. The Phoenix Symphony played beautifully and no mistake was heard to the untrained ear. Aspiring performers should audition for next year’s performance to gain experience!
The AYCO 2017 Festival was an amazing adventure that I think about often. From my first look at the cool old factory that was our campus, to the awesome lunches and performances, the entire festival is full of wonderful memories. And, on top of all of that, the AYCO Festival was a great learning experience that gave me encouragement and confidence in my circus dreams.
On the plane ride home from the festival I realized I had learned a lot of new tricks and drills in just a few short days. I took a notebook with me to the festival, and wrote down every scrap of information I could during each class and lecture. I had started off the week with Handstands 101, so the first page was full of new drills and notes like, “Ribs in!” But, being an aerialist at heart, I had spent a lot of my time in the air learning dynamic trapeze tricks and new combinations on lyra, so I had many pages on that, too. As I flipped through my notebook on the plane, I felt excited about all the new things I had learned, how I could integrate them into my practice, and how I could introduce these new ideas to my troupe back in Portland Oregon.
The AYCO Festival gave me something even more valuable than new tricks, it encouraged me to think about how I might shape my future around circus. I attended a lecture about the various options in circus education and about how I could make my future in circus possible. I learned about the different kinds of circus schools, about how to supplement performing income with teaching income, about how to audition effectively, and I learned that I got to decide how I wanted to do it! That lecture gave me the inspiration and information I needed to start talking with my parents about the how and why of a circus education. Being at the festival I realized there was a community of young people, just like me, who want to be circus artists and don’t think it’s impossible! I firmly believe that without the AYCO Festival I would never have found other youth who have circus dreams like mine, and I would still think that being part of a circus as an adult was impossible.
For me though, the best thing about the AYCO Festival is the new friends I made. They made everything fun! When we were in classes together we trained and created with each other; when we ate meals we talked about the way circus worked in our hometowns; when we watched each others’ performances we clapped as loud as we could for each other; and when we went back to the hotel to “sleep” we spent hours in the pool and chatting in the hallway between our rooms. On the last day of the festival we said goodbye again and again until our coaches had to drag us to our cars. We exchanged information so we could keep in touch, even though we live half a country away from each other. So, thank you to every single person I met for making the AYCO Festival awesome — and that includes every AYCO staff member and volunteer who made it possible! Your hard work and dedication to putting on a great festival made it possible for me to learn new tricks, discover circus around the US, and make new circus friends, all in just a few days! I miss you all, and I miss the AYCO festival. Until 2019 everybody!
What does the word diversity mean? And what does it have to do with circus? It turns out that both of these questions have multiple answers depending on who you ask! Here I have collected three examples of such diversity in the circus arts, one that explores diversity of the human body and how each individual is unique, one that focuses on the diversity of culture and background, and a last one which uses the profits of circus performances to address issues of diversity and acceptance.
Diverse City (http://www.diversecity.org.uk/)
This organization, from the UK, unites deaf, disabled, and non-disabled circus artists to perform together. In their show “Extraordinary Bodies”, the artists amaze their audience as they overcome barriers caused by their disabilities by working together. Furthermore, this organization provides training in the circus arts, especially to those that are challenged by a disability. Diverse City also holds workshops to teach leaders and managers of companies to be more aware of how they operate and how they could develop or foster a diverse environment.
Bibi and Bichu (https://www.bibiandbichu.com/)
Bibi and Bichu, two Ethiopian brothers, address diversity in the circus arts by looking at their background and the stories that shaped them. Since they were young, both had dreams to become circus performers one day, despite the lack of a circus tradition in Ethiopia. Through their performance of Circus Abyssinia, they tell their story – how they dreamed, and how they succeeded. Aware of the lack of a circus culture in Ethiopia, the two brothers now sponsor a circus school in the country, Circus Wingate, and regularly hold workshops to spread the arts of circus to the next generation.
Circus Oz (http://www.circusoz.com/)
This organization approaches diversity at yet another angle, using multiple circus-related events and opportunities as fundraisers to address social issues. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Circus Oz offers circus classes and performances to involve their community. Although some show content addresses social issues, most of their social activism is done through the money they raise, which is used to fund women’s refuges, welfare agencies, homeless shelters, victims of domestic violence, families living on housing commission estates, the Red Cross, the Royal Children’s Hospital, and Anglicare Kids in Crisis. Funds raised are also used for organizing and holding workshops at detention centres and helping refugees and asylum seekers.
For sure, there are many, many more circus organizations which reflect diversity. Diversity cannot be pinned to one definition. Neither can circus, an art that involves creativity and a divergence from the norm. Perhaps this is why they fit together so well! How does circus reflect diversity in your life?
When I was little I tried every sport. Ballet, soccer, swimming, sailing, track. All of them. Nothing really challenged me.
Then I stumbled across the circus. I fell in love with the music, the lights…and of course the applause. I became obsessed with the spinning rope act. I was so obsessed with the act that I trained and trained everyday doing pull ups, leg lifts and rope climbs. I trained until my hands were red and calloused, my legs bruised and the back of my knees raw. I trained for a year, until finally, I got to star in the act. The feeling was magical, I’ve been in the spinning rope act every year since.
Two years ago I became a Ringmistress. Between the demanding physical challenges and regularly speaking publicly in front of thousands upon thousands of people, circus has made me into the person who is unafraid of anyone or anything. At the age of 16, I am ready to take on the world. I am confident. I am strong. I am me. And I have dreams. Dreams of spinning on the rope under the big top, dreams filled with the applause and adoration and amazement of audiences.
But America’s largest circus has just closed its doors. What does that mean for the future of the circus? What does that mean for MY future in circus?
Circus is forever. Audiences change. The world changes. Circus adapts. In a world where our experiences are electronic, our friends are on social media and games are on screens instead of backyards, we need a more intimate kind of circus. One that offers realness. Where you can see artists muscles strain and their foreheads drip with sweat. One that offers real people doing incredible things. Just a few feet away.
That is me. That is us. We are the future of circus. We are Sailor Circus.
– Grace, age 16, from Sailor Circus (Sarasota, FL)
From late June to early July of this year, the nation’s capital celebrated circus. The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage annually transforms the National Mall in Washington, D. C. for its Folklife Festival. The Festival’s themes in past years have ranged from Basque to Hungarian Heritage to Kenyan and Chinese Culture. This year, the circus community had the opportunity to showcase their unique history and artistry for the Festival’s fiftieth anniversary.
With representation from 22 circuses, attractions included flying trapeze shows, foot-juggling, and countless clown skits. In addition to a variety of performances, the festival featured other programs: circus cooking, science, and stories. As I meandered through the festival, I was greeted by jugglers from Circus Harmony, trampoline artists twisting through the air, and stories of how circus has forever altered performers’ lives.
I was struck by the magnitude of the festival. A blend of traditional ring and contemporary performances yielded a unique circus culture conducive to growth. In the midst of movements for social circus, birth of new circus programs, and questions regarding new means of unifying the circus community, performers came together to celebrate the complexity and beauty of circus. The Festival certainly reflected the spreading passion for circus, which was my primary takeaway from the event.
While growing up as a circus kid, many look to their coaches not only for advancing their skills and getting advice about their acts, but also learning about life. Carlo Pellegrini is one of my circus coaches, and he has many bits of advice as a coach, a businessman, and as a professional clown and ringmaster.
Carlo was first exposed to circus when he was six years old and had a recurring dream that he was a juggler in the 12th century, entertaining people as they traveled down a road. When he was about nine, he would stay up past his bedtime peering through a crack in his door to watch The Ed Sullivan Show and memorize the acrobat and juggling routines. He would practice these routines extensively in his backyard. Carlo failed a lot, but kept at it every week.
The first piece of advice from Carlo is to keep practicing. If you want to get really good, one hour per week will not be enough. Ten hours a week is a good start. Even though you fail, you must keep practicing.
Later in his life, Carlo was in college striving to be the accounting major that his father wanted him to be, but as Carlo dabbled in acting and philosophy classes he learned 1) that he was terrible at math, and 2) that he really wanted to be a dancer and join a circus.
At his Catholic college, Carlo met a Jesuit priest, Nick Weber, who had his own one-man circus show, The Royal Lichtenstein ¼-Ring Sidewalk Circus. Later, after rejecting the advice of his father to major in accounting, his father said he should at least pursue a legitimate theater career. That’s when Carlo “ran away to join the circus.” He joined the first national touring company of The Royal Lichtenstein Circus. At this point, he regrets he didn’t give his father’s advice more credence, but life is funny: he did have to learn how to use accounting as a producer and executive director of circuses. Proving the point that in the circus you have to learn to do everything!
Carlo’s second piece of advice is to follow your dream, and make it into something with which you can support yourself. Even though he didn’t finish college, he balances his “follow your dream” advice with this advice: complete your college degree. Of course, circus arts learning improves a student’s ability to succeed academically, so completing a degree should easy.
Years later, after having moved on to performing with the Nikolais Dance Company and working in TV commercials, Carlo met a man on a New York City subway who was carrying a trapeze over his shoulder. Carlo asked this circus-stranger where he was working and received an invite to come to Battery Park City to check out the Big Apple Circus. Carlo sought a job there, and was offered the position of Ringmaster. Later, the owner asked him to perform as a clown. During his season with the Big Apple Circus, Carlo was always working on perfecting his skills. Between shows, he knew he had access to world-class performers, and he asked them to teach him more acrobatics as well as the trapeze.
Carlo’s third piece of advice is to learn everything you can. Part of that general advice is that Carlo believes an aspiring circus performer should master a ground skill and an aerial skill, and that an aspiring circus coach should be able to teach the basics of every circus skill.
Carlo realized he couldn’t support his family on the then seasonal business of the Big Apple Circus, and so he took a job in advertising. Circus was never far from his day-to-day work however, and he taught all his clients how to juggle. Ultimately, he developed a motivational speaking program based on juggling called ‘The Juggling MATRIX’!
While working as a motivational speaker, Carlo led his church’s youth programs. As a result of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, many families in his hometown of Nyack, New York, had been personally affected by losses of loved ones. During counseling sessions with his teen youth group, they asked Carlo to help them put together a fundraising circus show for their community. The teens named it after their church, and called themselves THE AMAZING GRACE CIRCUS!
Carlo and his AGC co-founder Janet Hayes agreed to help them put together a show. After the show, the kids wanted to continue to work and perform together and the AGC! Teen Troupe was born. Today AGC! runs circus arts programs in schools with their signature family fun night fundraisers and community events. Over the past 15 years they have performed for and trained over 70,000 children and teens.
Carlo has always worked with students with a wide range of abilities and personalities. He studies constantly, reading books and attending educational seminars on human behavior and child development. Fundamental to his work is understanding how people learn to learn. Carlo says that he can study a kid for a few minutes and determine his/her learning style. He has learned what approach works with different learning styles. Carlo classifies learners into the following categories: action-oriented learners, analytically-oriented learners, adaptive-oriented learners, and intuitive/creatively‐oriented learners.
Click here to see The AGC Pedagogical Model!
I asked Carlo what he hopes for in the students he teaches. He responded that he hopes his circus students 1) are hungry to learn; 2) are open to learning a full breadth of skills; 3) are willing to put in the time to learn; 4) have a sense of humor, understanding that the basis of circus is improv and Vaudeville; and 5) look at their coaches as a source of extensive experience for students to tap and a resource for contacts and networking.
I also asked Carlo his favorite part of being a coach. He responded that he loves “seeing students get the look of understanding in their eyes.” He loves to see that “look of understanding translated to their bodies in a trick, routine or piece.” He is fulfilled knowing he has “gotten through and now they have a bridge of communication.” His goal is student independence, but for them to always have “an island of security to come back to – to the circus.”
Click here to see Carlo’s Circus Philosophy!
Carlo has been a great coach to me. In addition to teaching me skills and providing me performing opportunities through AGC!, he offers constant encouragement. He helps me balance my passion for circus with a rigorous high school academic schedule. He has provided me leadership opportunities helping to choreograph for the junior troupe and guiding new Teen Troupe members through their first performance. Carlo and AGC! have provided me many opportunities to give back to our community through performing at events like the YMCA Family Fair and volunteering at the AGC! summer camp. Like Carlo, I love to see the excited look in a child’s eyes when he/she accomplishes a new skill!