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The topsy-turvy life of a circus star

Clowning is about telling the truth, says one clown school student. (Meagan Deuling photo)

The Burnside Industrial Park area is a convolution of overpasses, underpasses, highway exits and multiple streets with the same name. The Atlantic Cirque is tucked into Oland Cresent in this concrete labyrinth. It is a mecca for the acrobatically inclined.

The year-end evaluation at Atlantic Cirque fell on Saturday, Sept. 1, when most students were fighting to savour the remnants of summer.

The evaluations are similar to a piano recital, where student marks are based on two performances. Melissa Leg, a teacher at the school, said some performances were perfected throughout the year while a few were thrown together in the week before the evaluation.

The circus gym has high ceilings and is hung with dual silky ropes and hoops and squares attached to ropes on pulleys. The blue fabric on the floor is valuable; everyone in the audience removed their shoes upon entrance. There are mirrors lining the black-painted walls, stage lights directed towards the centre of the room and fast-paced jazz music trailing from speakers. The audience of 30 or so crowds the side of the room.

Students showcase their newfound knowledge and fruits of their practice with splits and tumbling on cerceau hoops, which hang from the ceiling. Most performers were barely clad in tight spandex, synchronized their routines to sexy music and flirted with the audience through sly eye movement.

Katie Dorian chose a different route.

“I was inspired by the song Bath Tub from the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Peter Pan,” she said, after the performance. The Dalhousie theatre graduate entered the sweltering stage in a yellow rubber rain jacket and Tilly hat. She chose six different songs and “mashed them together to get the fun, adventurous mood that matched my performance.”

The importance of theatrical stage presence gave more than one layer to the performances. While one proto-circus star tumbled, bounded, stretched and flipped in centre stage, two more created a tableau off to the side. Between each act was a dance, skit or clown performance to ease transition.

Dorian said her theatre degree helps keep her in character while she transitions between acts, but the less academic Atlantic Cirque captivates her in a way Dal never did.

“I’ve never worked this hard before,” she said. “I’ve always been athletic, but if you would have told me last year that I’d be doing tumbles and handsprings by now, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Jesse Reimer-Watts was the first to showcase his silk skills. His glittery lycra suit matched the pale blue ropes. As he climbed up the silks upside-down with his feet, a hush fell over the room. The only sound was the simple piano music accompanying his performance.

The next day in his backyard, Reimer-Watts said he had been focusing on strength as he practiced. But during the performance, he said, “it was about grace. I was dancing with the silks.”

Reimer-Watts was the only male performer, and the only one with clowning aspirations. He finds it hard to be a clown, he says, because it’s all about honesty.

“Anyone can be a clown,” said Reimer-Watts, “they just have to find it in themselves.”

Dorian said she doesn’t know what she’ll do after the program.

“So far, I’ve been lucky. Things have fallen into my lap. I’ve had to work really hard,” she says, “but opportunities always come up.” She plans to continue to practice in the Halifax circus scene.

Reimer-Watts already does freelance clown work and works with kids at a daycare. Ultimately, he said, “I’d love to be able to make everyone in the world laugh at the same time. Or cry. Wouldn’t that be amazing?”


Meagan Deuling
Meagan Deuling
Megan Deuling was Assistant Arts Editor of the Gazette for Volume 145.

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