Blending traditional family fun you remember as a kid with the sophisticated flair of performing arts.
I have one fond memory of a special trip to Boston to go see Ringling Brothers with my family and I couldn’t wait to recreate a piece of that memory. I had visions of acrobatics, glitz, and lots of primary colors. What I saw had many of the traditional circus elements
I remembered but with a modern twist. Cirque Us!: the perfect blend of sophistication and fun.
The stage set up was minimally decorated with bedtime related items in calming pastel colors: a bed and blankets. The focal point was the rigging in the center, which was one of the only things that hinted at a circus performance (and the juggling bowling pins on the floor). The simple set up focused the audience on the fun and amazing performances I was eager to see.
Entertainment Before the Show Even Starts
We got to the performance early to get a good seat (since it was general admission) and found a cozy spot right in the center. As people waited for the show a cast member dressed like a sheep (or a goat – I’m not sure) started interacting with the audience. He didn’t bring a lot of attention to himself, so you knew the show hadn’t begun (plus it wasn’t quite show time).
He read over a kid’s shoulder. Then made his way up the stairs and cocked his head inquisitively as he examined another child’s hands and then his own and then surprised us all by making a baa noise. On his way back down he stradled the railing for a moment before making his way back stage again.
I’ve never been to a performance where the cast interacted with the audience like that. It was welcoming, fun, and creative. This clowning was what really keeps each show fresh, Doug Stewart, founder, explained to me.
So even if the show itself is the same week to week, interacting with the audience brings its own dynamic, as I found on multiple occasions when the audience would hoot or a kid would comment and the cast member would respond with a funny facial expression or “I know, right.” This added to the overall experience of the performace because you really felt involved and more engaged, not just a passive observer taking it in (which by the way, was also an enjoyable experience).
The Show Begins!
The show began with many of the cast performing tubbling, juggling, and demonstrating other feats of athleticism, concentration, grace, and flexibility. People were constantly moving. I kept hearing audience members saying wow and wahoo.
Set Movement was Entertaining to Watch Too
Usually moving props and staging is done by a stage crew in black costume to make them less obvious or behind the curtain while another performance is going on. Not with Cirque. Everything was in full view and they made it part of the performace. Moving the tumbling mats was entertaining when one person even seemed to disappear behind them while it was moving. You stared in awe as a cast member changing the rigging, climbing up the rope, while others engaged with this by making funny expressions. Later a performer made the bed (a main prop in the performance) on the side and smiled at the audience while others were performing. I loved how they were cognizant of the audience the whole time and tried to make every part of the experience as entertaining as possible.
Excellent Arrangement to Keep you Entralled
The show was set around the theme of dreams so each acts whether it be a solo act, group or partner revolved around a dream sequence or story that flowed effortlessly. I was impressed at how they were able to make such unrelated dreams flow together but the consistent costumes and personnas of the performers kept the whole performance conhesive. Even the transition from one act to another flowed really well. As one group act ended, one person would stay behind to start the next act, and then others would interact with him/her. Then someone else would stay behind or more would join in. Not only was it visually interesting for the audience, but it also kept you guessing what would happen next. This was also great for kids because the rotation of different types of acts, juggling, acrobatics, static trapeze, rope, etc kept them engaged. You didn’t have to have your attention sustained on any one thing to be entertained.
Always a Smile on Your Face
Everyone knows what a clown looks like and what s/he does. I had this stereotype in my head of red noses and goofy outfits, but I learned clowning was so much more than that singular association. You could be a clown with any costume or prop. It was really just about interacting with the audience with your facial expression and body language. I didn’t realize just how intregal this was to the performance until I saw how the clowns tied all the pieces together with their interaction with both the other performers and the audience. Their humor added so much to the show. One of my favorite acts was a clown one: the roller skate bit (which you gotta see). Their use of exaggerated facial expressions and grandiose gestures really were a hit with both adults and kids.
Variety to the Max and Incredible Talent
When I realized each cast member would be highlighted for a particular skill, I was excited for the surprise at what circus art they would be performing: juggling, hat manipulation, rope, straps, Chinese pole, static trapeze, tight wire, aerial hoop, clowning, rope and more (all of these you’d see this year). What was even more impressive was often before a cast member’s highlighted skill, you got to see them demonstrate other skills as well like juggling, acrobatics, acrobalance, hand balancing, and contortion.
It’s one of the ways this circus troupe is unique. Since it’s a small cast (ten people), everyone does a little bit of everything: rigging, music. “[They’re a] great group of people; everyone bringings something unique to the table,” Sonya Gurwitt explained, who performed an aerial hoop act and also did controtion throughout the performance. The majority of the cast members had a background peforming for Circus Smirkus, which was why Doug Stewart recruited them. Circus Smirkus is an intense lifestyle; cast perform in over 60 shows during the summer and take part in rigorous training, their website says. Doug believes that this experience prepped them for the transition from youth performance to professional career: “I knew if they could handle the life of Circus Smirkus, they could do this.” Later he went on to explain how Cirque Us! was different: the group does its own set up, tear down, rigging, marketing, script writing, show production, tech work, and more.
This is only Cirque Us!’s second year but you’d never know it. Their production, marketing, and execution appear to be of a troupe that has been on the road together for many years. I wouldn’t have known that only three of the cast members were the same from last year. Their camaraderie and teamwork really added to the smoothness of the show and its light hearted atmosphere.
These young men and women are an inspiration, showing such leadership, dedication, and drive at a young age. I have no doubt they will continue to bring joy and inspire others for years to come no matter where their journey takes them.
We were lucky. They travel New England and afar, but each year they come back to the Upper Valley to do a show (usually in the summer). This year you can see them at the Lebanon Opera House on Sun. March 22. You can get tickerst here.
Can’t make it? Don’t worry. You can also check them out next year too for a new adventure. Believe me, it’s well worth the wait!
Want to know what it’s like to be a circus performer? I went behind the scenes at one of their practice sessions and got the inside scoop. So fun and interesting! Learn about it here.