BRATTLEBORO —"I'm running away to join the circus" is a cliche joke for some, while for those in the New England Center for Circus Arts community, it is an artful reality.
Last weekend, Nov. 6 through Nov. 8, NECCA hosted its 17th annual Circus Workshop weekend, featuring over 40 sessions taught by about 17 instructors.
"Our goals of NECCA are to always offer new things and skill building," said NECCA office register and office manager, Dana Batchelor. "You can try something completely new, at the intro level, add on to an existing skill set, or do something very specific to an actual trick that you're working on."
Batchelor noted that the majority of people who came to the workshop weekend have had some prior background with NECCA or circus arts.
About 75 people preregistered for the workshop weekend and others participated as walk-ins. Two-hour workshops were priced at $35 dollars, three-hour at $55 and then discussion-based sessions at $10. For some, these annual workshops served as a way to get a taste of NECCA and help decide if they want to enroll in their aerial art sessions that include courses in trapeze, fabric and lyra. Those sessions are anywhere from 10 to 13 weeks in length and begin again in January 2016.
"We have students who have come to our professional programs and now they train all over the world and come back like it's homecoming weekend," said Batchelor. "And we have about 15 to 20 percent of people who are brand new to us this weekend."
Anthony Oliva, a 31-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska, originally moved to Brattleboro for NECCA where he went through the professional program and taught acrobatics, partner acrobatics and Chinese pole.
"I came back for the weekend workshops because I wanted to learn from this new wave of coaches and professionals," said Oliva.
Saturday afternoon he took two three-hour workshops; Acrobatic Partnering 301 and Creation 102: How do I start? He said both classes explored the consciousness of creating and partnering versus solely focusing on the tricks. "I'm really getting deeper into my knowledge of circus," he said.
From an all-day rigging workshop to a two-hour introduction to a flexibility class, from a bouncy class for beginners on the mini trampoline to an advanced "drops" workshop on the aerial silks, there were a broad array of opportunities. The teachers were excited about the fun-packed weekend as well.
"It's clearly expanding here and it's nice to be apart of the new expansion and work with new students," said Trevor Kafka, who currently resides in Boston. Kafka taught three lessons on Saturday and then taught private lessons in aerial on Sunday. "I've seen a very diverse skill set because it's not just NECCA people but also those from New York and all other parts of the United States."
Kafka said it has been interesting to work with people from varied regions because he has seen clear differences in the artists' practices. "I've been teaching certain skills in Boston for a long time, but when I bring them here, people see them as new and it's an opportunity for people to share everything they know and it really increases everyone's knowledge," said Kafka. "And it's a really great feeling when your knowledge is super worth it for other people because it's new and something they wouldn't have gotten otherwise."
The days can be long and tiring for instructors, especially for those like Kafka who teach three two- to three-hour workshops in one day after returning from a full week of work elsewhere. "It's a worth-it kind of long day though," said Kafka, who also teaches high school physics. "Being really good at aerial is not going to help you calculate something, but the interest that drives both of them for me are very similar because I find that things with movement and detail – in terms of the way things change or respond to each other – are things that I find very interesting visually and mathematically."
Batchelor noted that the workshop weekend really stuck out to her because she admired how the coaches focused on the creative process rather than the tricks. "I think it's really validating for artists to recognize themselves as a full being and not just a trick machine," said Batchelor. "It's important for artists to be able to say that this is the story I'm trying to tell, or this is the type of emotion that I can convey to you, and even though I'm doing it on fabric, trapeze or a German wheel, I am presenting this part of my soul."
The circus workshop weekend accommodated all levels, ages 12 and up. For anyone that did not have a chance to attend a workshop last weekend, they can always check out the free circus recitals and sample classes December 5 and 6.