One of my favorite photo pieces we’ve run in Yankee focused on the young performers of Circus Smirkus in 2001. Our photographer, Dana Smith, captured these beautifully composed portraits in black and white. There is such an intensity and allure to each of the images. I remember having all of the black and white prints of Dana’s portraits laid out on our conference table and the task of having to choose which shots made it into print was incredibly difficult. This was also the first time I was included in the process of editing the photographs and I loved it. I still have a printed proof tacked up on my bulletin board at work of one of the young performers, Russian acrobat Dasha Sergatchiova, with her hands clasped, her face full of anticipation. That photo also happens to be the closing shot of the story.
It’s now ten years later on a 90 degree day in July, the heat inside the big top in Brattleboro, Vermont, is stifling (industrial fans placed under the bleachers work to cool us periodically). But, really, the heat doesn’t matter. I can feel the excitement all around us knowing the performance is about to begin. I’ve brought my 5-year-old daughter, Ella, along for the ride to see Front Page Follies, the latest artistic creation from Circus Smirkus and I’m not sure who is more excited. We both know how lucky we are to be here instead of at work or summer camp.
And, so the show begins with lots of energy and music and smiles. Performers work to showcase their incredible range of strength and talent in the center ring. Acrobatic routines and theatrical performances have been perfected through tireless rehearsals. After successfully completed routines, the smiles on performers faces from ear to ear are infectious. The youngest performer is 7 years old, just 2 years older than my daughter, and the oldest is 18. I’m incredulous at the dedication and commitment these young performers have. And, the creative forces behind the production really play to the individual performer’s talents and strengths so they all work together to create an unforgettable show.
I find myself throughout the performance looking at my daughter’s face, gauging her reaction, seeing if she is enjoying it as much as I am. Taking in the theatrical funny bone skits in between the acrobatic and juggling routines, I see Ella smile and laugh. Her eyes light up as she looks to the stage for the next big act.
One moment in particular stays with me long after the show is over. When performing one routine involving Diablos (often called the Chinese Yo-Yos), one of the performers has a small misstep and a Diablo falls to the ground. One of the other performers looks at him and holds up one finger motioning for him to go for it one more time. He does and completes it perfectly. I can’t stop beaming. The teamwork and encouragement and trust all seem so fluid and easy for this group. It’s obvious that the skills and confidence these kids are building becomes about so much more than the circus.
We are able to stay and meet some of the performers after the show. I am surprised to feel the center ring give when we step on it, but with all of that jumping, no surprise really. Just incredible to see these young faces, up close, each so poised and confident. Ella is a bit shy, but she does get up the courage to finally ask one of the performers to sign her photograph of the troupe. She asks Ella what her favorite part of the show was and Ella doesn’t miss a beat when she replies, “All of it”.
We arrive home early that night and Ella proceeds to perfect somersaulting with her younger sister, Lucy, in our living room. I love seeing how incredibly proud she is when she completes several somersaults in a row and just as proud when her younger sister does the same. I’m wondering if I have two aspiring circus performers on my hands. Perhaps, but horses may still trump the circus for a couple more years. As parents, we all want to nurture our children’s dreams. For the performers of Circus Smirkus, that’s exactly what it’s all about, discovering and pursuing their passions.
To see the remaining summer schedule and learn more about Circus Smirkus camps, please visit their website.