When Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced their impending retirement, many were left wondering, “Is the circus dead?” Fortunately, the answer is “no,” as society is finally exploring a long-overdue renaissance of performance arts and entertainment without animal labor. Behind the controversial curtain of performing animals is raw talent of acrobats and aerial artists, captivating audiences with their defiance of physical limitations. In the midst of Ringling Brothers’ last few performances, a new kind of circus emerges in the Port City. Jamie Poletti and her co-instructors at Cape Fear Circus Arts Studio currently are helping their students polish final touches of their circus arts showcase, “Be Our Guest,” at TheatreNOW in downtown Wilmington.
“Circus arts are just what you are thinking,” Poletti explains, “acts you would see in a circus or circus-style show.”
Since 2014, the former gymnast has used various styles of circus arts to help her students discover endless possibilities of movement in their own bodies. They have partner acrobatics, wherein duos balance each other to help with flexible poses and strong positions.
“There are aerial arts,” Poletti continues, “such as silks, lyra and trapeze. These arts include flying high and dancing on a suspended apparatus. There is hoop dancing, using hula hoops to create illusions around the one yielding them. These examples all involve fluid and strong movements in order to perform them.”
Much like a traveling circus, Cape Fear Circus Arts Studio utilizes multiple venues around Wilmington to teach classes. Most students train in one or two classes a week, which leads up to the spring showcase, wherein students create original works.
“They choose their own music and choreography their own routines,” Poletti states. “Instructors are available for students to help problem-solve and make suggestions.”
With the timeliness and resurgence of “Beauty and the Beast,” CFCA students have concocted a circus arts routine inspired by the movie’s beloved characters. Without giving away too many details before the big reveal, audience members can expect an extra touch of magic to Belle and her enchanted housemates, as they illustrate a sequence from the tale as old as time, with hoops, aerial movement and apparatuses.
“There are eight students and two instructors performing in this showcase,” Poletti tells. “Some participants perform multiple acts; everyone is portraying a different character from the rose to Belle.”
Part of the appeal of circus arts is how people of all fitness levels can learn to achieve different styles with the help of gravity, balance and proper weight distribution. Even someone short and petite could learn to lift someone heavier and taller without overstraining the body.
“Everyone in the studio comes from different backgrounds,” Poletti adds. “We have everything from former gymnasts and ballerinas, to former soccer players and even those who have never exercised before.”
It seems like growing trends in pilates, yoga and ballet-barre exercises have all been leading up to a circus arts revolution. Many fitness studios now boast aerial-silks classes, and even street performers use at least one hoop more often than not. It’s no surprise, as there’s something undeniably romantic about learning to contort the body into beautiful shapes, while suspended mid-air.
“Circus arts give participants a great outlet for creativity and self-expression,” Poletti adds. “It’s empowering, and there is no greater feeling than when you have achieved a move you have worked so hard for, or when you have created a beautiful routine.”
While circus arts are becoming more widely recognized, it’s still finding its footing among dance, theatre, acrobatics, and other performance arts. The members of CFCA not only want to contribute to the entertainment world, but also invite more community members into their colorfully chaotic antics in the sky.
“CFCA has been looking for a permanent home in Wilmington,” Poletti says. “We want to continue to expand our services to community members of all ages.”
With the dark shadow of animal labor finally drifting away from the circus, a new focus on human feats and talents is ready to shine. For the same level of magic and awe, without an ounce of animal cruelty, CFCA’s “Be Our Guest” will certainly be a breath of fresh air.