Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Circus

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up

International All-Star Circus offers a combination of big top wonder and theater

A traveling circus will perform four shows over spring break, one on Monday and three on Tuesday, at Juneau's Centennial Hall. But don't expect to feed peanuts to the elephants, because this modernized circus features "people entertaining people."

Doug Harris, managing partner of the International All-Star Circus, explained that there are two types of circuses these days: "Ours, which is more 'cirque,' which is a combination of circus and theater; then there is the old style which uses trade animals."

According to ringmaster and producer Cornell "Tuffy" Nicholas, he is bringing this show to Alaska because, after many great experiences touring here, he knows that "Alaska loves a circus."

"I love the people," Nicholas said. "The landscape is beautiful, and I love the whole frontier aspect."

Harris agreed saying the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau "showed great enthusiasm and we've felt the warm hospitality before we've even arrived."

Nicholas said he thinks Juneau will appreciate their circus.

"It's an all-star line-up filled with the finest acrobats from the last ten years, all rolled into one great show," he said.

Because he was born into a family of circus performers, Nicholas would know talent if he saw it. His father was a ringmaster for 27 years with the Ringling Brothers, and his German mother was a bear trainer.

Growing up in the circus, Nicholas said he dabbled in all circus arenas over the last 30 years performing on trampoline, trapeze, teeter board and highwire, and working with elephants, lions and tigers. He also performed magic and eventually began managing and producing performances.

"Just don't ask me to be a clown or a juggler," he said jovially.

Some of Nicholas' 20 hand-picked performers include the famous Flying Wallenda family, consisting of Rick Wallenda; his sister, Rietta; Rietta's daughter, Lyric, who perform on an ariel perch; and Bri, a 10-year-old who, according to Wallenda, is the "youngest daredevil in the history of highwire."

Rick Wellenda said he spotted Bri's talent right away.

"Bri asked if I would train her, and I saw she was a natural, so one day I put her in the pyramid," he said.

Rick Wallenda comes from five generations of acrobats and trapeze artists. His grandparents started the original act in 1928, which they performed in the Ringling Brothers Circus. Wallenda now owns Henrietta Place, a family training complex in Florida, which started off as 22 acres. Then his family began selling off bits and pieces until it was an exclusive all circus neighborhood.

Another young performer is fifth-generation contortionist Amanda Bautista, 19, who's been performing the same routine since she was nine and began practicing when she was 3 years old by mimicking her older sister. Her parents and brother performed on the flying trapeze, while other siblings did hand balancing and juggling.

Bautista, who is visiting Juneau for the first time said she's never wanted to find out what work would be like outside the circus. But at her young age, she has already traveled extensively abroad and has stayed in all the United States except Alaska.

Nicholas said there is something for everyone and something for all ages at their two-hour circus. In addition to the acrobatic skills and contortionists, there will be clowns, magicians, trampoline, rolla bolla, Spanish web, Lyra (flying through the air while suspended on a large hoop) and other balancing acts. The motorcycle on a highwire act had to be excluded from Juneau shows due to restrictions.

Circuses began in London 1782 and the International All-Star circus credits circus popularity to its simple universal appeal.

"lt (circuses) was a truly popular-egalitarian-form of entertainment, enjoyed by all, regardless of race, language, age, education or class. Requiring great skill, benefiting from creativity and originality, circus nevertheless needs no sophistication."

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