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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Aug. 2, 2021 9 months ago

Circus Arts Conservatory returns with Summer Circus Spectacular

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The summer show will have performances almost every day through Aug. 14.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

For a town as inextricably linked to performance and spectacle as Sarasota, it’s been some time since there’s been a true circus show here.

But the old adage about showbiz has proven true. The show must go on, and the circus has returned to Sarasota in the shape of the Circus Arts Conservatory’s Summer Circus Spectacular. The show — a partnership between the CAC and the Ringling — has jugglers, clowns and other performers putting on dazzling feats of strength and flexibility at the Historic Asolo Theatre through Aug. 14. 

It’s a relief for many but perhaps none more so than the performers themselves. All of them have committed their lives, time and bodies to the circus but when the pandemic hit, all of their passion had to be put aside.

Among the performers: 

Elayne Kramer, contortionist 

The 29-year-old hand-balancer comes from an Argentinian circus family and has been twisting herself into impressive and daunting shapes since she was 8. That skill has led to a career that started in Sarasota but has taken her across Europe and Asia. 

Elayne Kramer has been getting her body ready to contort into impressive shapes.

The pandemic brought a different line of work for Kramer — she found side work housecleaning and caregiving while picking up the occasional performance gig and whatever else came her way. But for the first time since she started her career, she found herself without work planned out ahead for months.

Kramer says she isn’t naturally flexible and puts in an hour and a half of stretching every morning before a show. It’s easier on the body to practice consistently but with no shows on the horizon, Kramer started stretching less often. 

“Contortion is often very painful,” Kramer said. “When the pandemic started I thought ‘Oh this is cool, I don’t have to be in pain as much’ but then it was harder to go back to it and there’s a struggle to that. But nothing beats what I do… I really live for this, so I had to get myself back together.”

She resumed everyday training in February. 

Kramer's big finish involves shooting a bow and arrow in a fairly unorthodox position. It’s been a thrill for Kramer to be able to perform in Sarasota for a crowd that’s missed the circus as much as she has. 

“It was hard but I’m really happy to see people excited to come to the circus,” Kramer said. “It’s just exciting to know that people missed us.”

The Valla-Bertini Family, unicyclists

Kim Sue Valla had a system for her family. She, her husband Vlastek and their children Violet and Vincent compose the Valla-Bertini Family, a high-unicycle act. When not in their native Sarasota, the quartet has traveled across the country performing all sorts of intricate and impressive acts for audiences.

The Valla-Bertini family has been ready to take the stage again on their high unicycles.

The pandemic replaced that system with something more stationary. With no gigs to be found, Vlastek took work with the Asolo Repertory Theatre while Kim Sue took care of things at their Sarasota home. Violet, 11, went from being home schooled to attending a local school while Vincent, 19, found a job at a box office. 

“We’ve all been separate,” Kim Sue Valla said. “We’re used to living in an RV and working together, eating together, driving together. For me and my husband, we start to think we’re missing our kid’s lives. My son is off at work in downtown Sarasota and normally I would homeschool my daughter (when on the road).”

The 2020 Summer Circus Spectacular was the first event cancelled for the Valla family and the 2021 event is the first event they have back again. The family has been practicing for two months on a concrete stage they have on their front lawn and have been settling back into a groove.

“We haven’t performed together in two years,” Valla said. “We didn’t realize how much we missed it until now.”

 

Noel Aguilar, speed tempo juggler

Noel Aguilar, a speed tempo juggler from a circus family, is used to keeping his balance. Whether he’s performing in Europe or in his local Florida, he knows the most important thing is to stay locked into his performance and keep his pins moving. 

Even so, it was hard for Aguilar to stay focused when his entire life was thrown up in the air.

“It was March (2020) when everything shut down for me,” Aguilar said. “Since then, I have not performed.”

Aguilar, 25, had a backup plan in case an injury ended his juggling career — his mother always pressed him to have other options — but his degree in lighting was a cold comfort when the pandemic shut that field down as well.

His knack for staying balanced came in handy in other ways and Aguilar spent much of the pandemic carrying plates at the Mattison’s restaurant in Sarasota. 

“I enjoyed it but felt like I was missing something,” Aguilar said. “Every day I would go and be like, ‘Man, if these people only knew what I could do, what I’ve truly dedicated my whole life to.”

For his performance, Aguilar juggles a series of pins followed by ping pong balls and eventually three Mexican hats that he tosses into the audience. It’s a fast-paced and lively segment but those hats in particular are special to the juggler — his father passed them down to him to use in his own act. 

“I’ve had them for 10 years,” Aguilar said. “He told me I’d have them for the rest of my career and I said ‘Yeah, right.’ Sure enough, 10 years later and they’re still going strong.”

He felt a mix of excitement and nerves to be back in his industry after so much time away, but the one thing he was certain of was that he wouldn’t waste the opportunity. 

“Now that I’m getting my chance to get back on stage, I’m taking it and running with it,” Aguilar said. 

 

 

 

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