From the large to the small, from the garish to the subtle, this spring is certainly the (big) tops when it comes to circus arts in the area.
Much of the grand aerial trapeze work, juggling, trickery and such, will come courtesy of the internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil and, locally, from Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.
Along with additional circus-like events — Compagnia Finzi Pasca at the Kimmel Center, the wealth of acrobatic fare at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts - the rise in events and the increased enrollemtn at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts shows that interest in circus arts is a growing trend.
"In 2000, we started with a handful of students in our house in Germantown," says PSCA instructor Shana Kennedy, who co-owns the circus skills educational enterprise with her husband, aerialist Greg Kennedy. "Within a few years, we had moved out of the house and renting studio spaces in various parts of the city with every year bringing more students. By 2008 we had about 100 students weekly, and I was ready to open the current facility. Now they just keep coming."
Students learn circus skills such as aerial rope, sling and trapeze work, feather-balancing, tight-wire, scarf-juggling, plate-spinning, and acrobatics.
Marjon Van Grunsven, artistic director of Cirque du Soleil and its upcoming “OVO” show at Temple University's Liacouras Center, said she could write a book about interest in the circus arts, whether it's massive audience attendance, or a desire on the part of students — young, old and novice — to take part in its skill sets.
"Then again, the circus has always been a trend — one of the oldest forms of entertainment," she said. "We should not underestimate that."
What Cirque du Soleil did, by way of inspiring audiences new to the form, was remove the circus from greasepaint clown makeup and working — sometimes cruelly — with animals to one concentrating on daring feats of levitation, acrobatics and street performance art.
"Remember, Cirque du Solei, started as a dream for a handful of young street performers who saw their dream come true by bringing the sun — le soleil — into people's hearts and souls."
Cirque du Soleil's newest production, “OVO,” is its first that tells a story. “OVO” – Portugese for egg - is about a ladybug who falls in love with a fly, where you're driven "into the world of insects, led by Master Flipo, who portrays a big colorful beetle. If the story doesn't grab you, its 10 incredible acrobatic acts will.
The same can be said of the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, which performs "La Boutique Fantasque" May 6-7 at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center with the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Society before holding student showcases, open house workshops and staff shows in May and June.
"Circus is an incredibly exciting and unique art form which forces us to let go of our ideas of reality and groundedness, and what we believe to be possible for the human body," says Kennedy.
Exhilarating to watch — even more so to be a part of the hard work of daily training, whether as a coach or a student — it will soon become an even bigger, trendier part of the city's future. That's because the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts is getting ready to announce a single, larger location for its classes. Currently, they utilize studio spaces throughout the city.
"There's no doubt that circus education is booming," she says. "These days, more kids experience circus through a class or a workshop than by seeing a show."