Circa leads the way for a new generation of circus performers 

Over the Big Top

Rough 'N' Tumble: Circa performers are world-class athletes

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Rough 'N' Tumble: Circa performers are world-class athletes

"Circa is the unicorn of circus," says Yaron Lifschitz of Australia's contemporary circus company. "Strange, potentially a bit spiky, but ultimately quite beautiful."

As artistic director and CEO of Circa, Lifschitz has helped redefine the idea of a circus into something artistic, emotional, and challenging. Whereas most companies are driven by a nostalgic desire to preserve the traditional aspects of the circus, Circa looks at what it can be in today's world. The company pays homage to the classic circus while sharing their new vision of theatrical, multimedia, boundary-pushing productions.

The company started out as the Rock 'n' Roll Circus in 1987, but Lifschitz quickly changed the name when he took over in 2004 — he wanted something more edgy, more unmistakably circus-like. Lifschitz was actually new to the world of circus; a theater director by training, it took some time to adjust to the unfamiliar field. He figured things out as he went along, but his overall goal — to create poetic, philosophical works based on the traditional language of the circus — remained consistent. Lifschitz's dramatic background helped move the company in its bold new direction — and it paid off.

"We did it because we had a hunch that circus could move, inspire, and enthrall as well as entertain," Lifschitz says. "It is also a great market opportunity and a new adventure."

The touring troupe is made up of seven incredibly athletic core members, each of them highly trained in the circus arts. Though young, most of the members have been performing for years, with resumés boasting stints at the National Institute of Circus Arts, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, and other companies around the world. To prepare for pushing their bodies to the limit, the performers train six hours a day when they're in rehearsal, plus two to three hours before each show. Creating the shows is often a collaborative effort and encompasses tumbling and acrobatics. They even don blood-red stilettos and walk on each other.

"We dream and talk and try things," Lifschitz says. "Mostly though, it's just really hard work — 9 to 5 in a studio — training, thinking, talking, working. We are very diligent and driven and we tend to be really hard on ourselves. But inspiration is everywhere — in music, art, ourselves. We just have to be ready to see it when it comes."

While the director's theatrical background brings a big dose of drama to the troupe's performances, don't expect to find an obvious story line.

Lifschitz says they have a poetic core with a heart. "I see them as life forms."

At their Spoleto debut, Circa will perform their self-titled show, which has been described as their most accessible and engaging main stage work. The large-scale show was originally remixed from three of the company's most acclaimed works, but it continually evolves.

"Increasingly, it is just becoming its own unique thing," Lifschitz says. "All our shows are improvised to some degree, so they're all different. This is important because it stops the work from becoming dull. I think the performances will be awesome in Charleston. It is a very important festival, and we can't wait to perform there."

Their Spoleto appearance wraps up a grueling worldwide tour that began in February, reaching everywhere from New York to the Netherlands to Spain. And although different cultures have different perceptions of the circus, most audiences have had similar reactions to Circa's shows.

"Audiences are different," Lifschitz says. "Some clap and cheer. Some sit as if in stunned amazement. But they all stand at the end of the show and show their appreciation, which is lovely."

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