BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro is more than a dot on the map in circus circles. It is recognized world wide for the high caliber training circus artists receive at the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA). Because NECCA is held in such high regard founders Serenity Smith Forchion and Elsie Smith have been able to attract professional, world-renowned high flying aerialists, acrobats, and jugglers, some whom got their start right here, to perform in their fundraising Spectacular Circus Shows now in its sixth year. This year's show is set to take place at the Latchis Theatre next weekend.
These professionals are donating their time and talents to raise money in support of NECCA's outreach curriculum that offers free and discounted programming with many collaborators for at risk youth, children with autism, adults with physical disabilities, and a special program for cancer survivors. Approximately one in six NECCA students receive some form of tuition assistance.
Emceeing the event is funnyman and circus royalty Jeff Raz from Cirque du Spleil's Corteo. As a Berkeley, California native where street art is vibrant, Raz was inspired by street performers, becoming involved in circus arts at age 15, For over 35 years he has performed with myriad circuses and theaters world wide, most famously Cirque du Soleil and The Pickle Circus. His clowning and juggling skills will serve to segue acts, keeping the audience engaged. Jeff said he has two reasons to love coming to Brattleboro, where he will perform for the first time. First, it gives him the opportunity to reconnect with several of his old colleagues from The Pickle Circus for a quasi reunion, and second, to visit his son, a student at Landmark College. He said, "Even though I am based in California, Brattleboro is becoming circus central in the USA. I am blown away by the quality of students. Today NECCA has a lot of clout. That's how it happens, a little tiny place finds the secret and it attracts the people."
Not common in circus shows are duo acts, but there will be three in this one. A rare local appearance by Smith and Forchion will bring their duo trapeze act Dos Chicas to the stage, winner of the Special Prize at the Wuqiao International Circus Festival in China and a Bronze Medal at the International Circus Festival in Albacete, Spain. They starred on Cirque du Soleil's Saltimbanco for four years and rarely get to perform close to home as their touring appearances take them around the United States and the world to perform at private events.
The Vertical Tango Duet by Chinese pole artists American Sam Payne and Swiss Sandra Feusi won a Gold Medal at the prestigious Festival Mondial de Cirque du Demain in Paris. The pair toured for six years with Cirque du Soleil's Saltimbanco before starring on circuses in Europe and the United States including Knie and Teatro Zinzanni. Emcee Raz had said he is looking forward to watching Vertical Tango's act, calling it gravity defying, beautiful and romantic.
Kia-Melinda Eastman and Lindsay Culbert-Olds present the third duo. They may be recognized from their time at Circus Smirkus when they were youth performers, but now they are grown up and will dazzle the audience with a five-and-a-half-minutes trapeze act of balancing, hangs and releases, sure to prompt gasps out of the audience. Culbert-Olds and Eastman have been working together for ten years since first meeting at NECCA where they learned They learned show quality and discipline from Smith and Forchion. They have been honing this act for the last year and half after graduating from acclaimed Ecole National du Cirque in Montreal, and have performed internationally with companies such as Midnight Circus, Cirque le Masque, Cirque Dreams, GOP Varieté and The Act.
Culburet-Olds said, "Though we're not sisters, we're not just friends, we're trapeze partners – a relationship that is impossible to describe, a story that would take days to retell. We value what makes us unique and this is what gives life to our number. We trust, we leap, we catch."
Eastman agreed. "We are really unique, we became friends through duo, we are truly a 50/50 act because we are similar in size. Often in duo acts one dominates because they are larger, so we have to use each other to balance. You can see our friendship in the act." She added, "I think Elsie and Serenity were our original inspiration – we had the best of the best training us."
Culburet-Olds also said, "I just think that it is amazing the amount of talent NECCA pulls together, and the performers that will be in the show! Kia and I are very excited to come back, we probably wouldn't be where we are today if it weren't for NECCA."
Highly skilled aerial hoop artist Amy Nash will bring a pure and traditional form of circus to the stage with her difficult, unique four-minute solo act consisting of as many as 18 hula hoops at one time. Hula hoops have been her specialty for three-and-half years, and this routine includes lots of manipulations with fast movements and isolations, including times when the hoop appears to be floating. She said she followed her own vision when perfecting this act, and designed all her own costumes and makeup design. "It's all me," she said, and she is hopeful it will win competitions down the road.
Nash first heard about NECCA while a student at Aerial Dance Over Denver in Colorado. After completing NECCA's Professional Training program she began appearing in traditional circuses around the U.K and Ireland. She is one of the few who have trained at NECCA to make the circus a full-time career, always pushing herself to the next level of professionalism. She has an agent, but also does a lot of her own self-promotion in social media to land contracts, She has a lot of gutsy aspirations with her eyes focused on the most famous circus festival in the world, the Monte-Carlo International Circus Festival. She keeps in contact with her mentors at NECCA saying that NECCA is a draw for professional artists who travel around the world, but can always come back, it has such a great support system. "NECCA is such a great treasure," she said.
The Spectacular Circus Show takes place at the Latchis Theater, 50 Main St., Brattleboro. Two shows only, 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 and 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 6. Tickets are $10 to $50 and may be purchased online at www.necenterforcircusarts.org. For VIP tickets there will be a reception before Saturday's show with wine and cheese. For information call 802-254-9780.
Sponsors for the Spectacular Circus Show are: Brattleboro Savings & Loan; Vermont Arts Council; Brattleboro Reformer; Brattleboro Retreat; NewChapter; Back Roads; Brattleboro Ford Subaru; 1st Advantage Dental; The Works; Twombly Wealth Management Group; Whetstone Station; Trust Company of Vermont; WKVT; Art Works; and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Contact Cicely M. Eastman at 802-254-2311 ext. 261.