Three Circus Sarasota performers share what it takes to prepare for the big show.
Watching a rehearsal is perhaps the best way to get to know a performer.
Sitting in the (newly air-conditioned) Ulla Searing Big Top at Nathan Benderson Park three days before the opening of Circus Sarasota 2019, these artists are in their most vulnerable state.
Most of them arrived just a couple days prior, and many of them have never performed in a Circus Arts Conservatory show. They’ve come from as close as East Sarasota and as far as Italy, and they’re reviewing logistics like lighting and sound, getting in the groove of the well-oiled machine that is Pedro Reis’ spectacle of circus artistry.
“I think he presents the show in a fashion that they (most performers) are used to, coming from Europe,” says ringmaster Joseph Dominick Bauer Jr. “Shows are kept very theatrical ... people feel like they’re going to an upscale circus.”
The acts aren’t perfect yet. These are professionals, but they’re getting used to their surroundings. A few horses go the wrong direction, a dog knocks over some hurdles and a literal ball is dropped mid-juggle, but through it all, the performers don’t let any small hiccups in practice affect their end product.
Their dedication shows in the rare, raw moments of imperfection during rehearsal — a slight, frustrated shake of the head when a prop falls to the floor, or the polite but assertive sense of urgency in their voice when they mention afterward that the music was too loud or the lights too dark.
Yes, the circus is a fun, thrilling form of entertainment. But scenes like this can demonstrate why it’s also a serious artform. We asked three artists why that is.
“It’s work — it’s not easy,” Cyr wheel performer Valérie Inertie says. “There are a lot of challenges, especially being a woman soloist.”
The Cyr wheel is a large aluminum ring resembling an oversized Hula-Hoop. Circus performers step onto the ring and use its momentum to execute challenging spins and inversions while it’s moving.
Asked what it feels like to be inside it, Inertie says it’s like being in a roller coaster car making loops around a track.
Inertie, a Canadian now living in Berlin, is a former gymnast who stumbled upon the Cyr wheel in 2004. The discipline was new at the time (it was invented by Daniel Cyr in the ’90s), and she was teaching gymnastics at the École de cirque de Québec, just a couple hours from Montreal-based Cirque Éloize where it was being experimented with.
She met Cyr himself and dived right in with him as her mentor, becoming one of the early pioneers of the discipline (she was the first Cyr wheel artist to perform outside of the Cirque Éloize).
Inertie was attracted to the discipline as a unique display of strength and artistic beauty, and her gymnastics background helped her with both those aspects, along with spatial orientation, flexibility and balance, the other key elements involved.
After her first six months of learning, Inertie developed “enough vocabulary of movement” to create a three-and-a-half minute routine on the wheel. Now, she travels the world with it, constantly developing her act.
Inertie says the biggest challenge of being a traveling performer is having to constantly acclimate to not only a new culture and climate, but every new venue’s floor and its surface, inclination and grip. Rehearsals are important for not only refining her act, but for safety reasons so she knows how to navigate the wheel on every new floor.
Although she says it’s hard to be constantly on the road away from her loved ones, Inertie wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’re connected — me and my wheel were meant to be together,” she says. “I don’t know what else I’d do (career-wise).
AMBRA ZERBINI BAUER
There aren’t many lyra performers who would ever even think to flip, twist and spin high above a small herd of horses, but Ambra Zerbini Bauer — whose stage name is Ambra Andrine — is about to debut her combination of the aerial discipline with an equestrian act.
The Ulla Searing Big Top happens to be the stage for said premiere, which seems appropriate for someone whose parents grew up in — and started their careers as circus performers in — Sarasota.
Zerbini Bauer is a 10th generation performer on the Zerbini side and a ninth generation performer on the Bauer and Nock side of her family. Her mother is renowned equestrian trainer and aerialist Sylvia Zerbini, and her father is 11th-year Circus Sarasota ringmaster (and aerialist and daredevil) Joseph Dominick Bauer Jr.
Growing up, Zerbini Bauer always wanted to be a dancer. She went into the circus arts instead, but while performing with Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus for 10 years, she took lessons from dancers on tour. Now, she incorporates her love of dance into her aerial routine, which starts and ends her dynamic act.
The middle of that act is leading six liberty horses through a series of tricks, which is why she says they’re the “stars of the show — I’m just there to guide them.”
The two components of her act couldn’t be more different, she says. Being in the air on her lyra requires intense mental preparation, for example, and the equestrian act requires constant verbal and physical communication with the six horses at her command — six horses who know her well, mind you, but weren’t previously used to having her flying around them in the ring.
When she rewards them with a treat in the middle of the routine, sometimes it comes back to haunt her on the lyra.
“Sometimes I have slobber on my hands, so when I get it on the bar, it’s tricky,” she says.
Hans Klose has tried many circus acts in his lifetime, but since his early 20s, he’s gone to the dogs.
Klose is a second-generation circus artist whose father came to the U.S. in 1956 to learn acrobatics with a troupe touring with Ringling Bros. His mother started her career with the Radio City Rockettes and eventually teamed up with her husband to create the “almost human gorilla” act and later a dog show, the latter of which they passed on to their son.
Klose became a distinguished circus performer in his own right, performing with the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus on the Final Farewell tour that ended May 21, 2017, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
Now, Klose, a Sarasota resident, travels the country with his partner, Colleen Pages, and their 20 dogs (and even some pigs for his summer fair act) showing that the circus arts are still alive and well.
“It’s a way of life,” Klose says of being a circus artist. “The whole 9-5 thing didn’t do it for me.”
In his Circus Sarasota debut, Klose and Pages show off the best tricks that 12 of their well-trained canines have perfected. From leaping over hurdles to human-assisted jump roping, these dogs can do more than your average inflexible human.
Klose says the biggest challenge is adjusting the dogs to a new environment. It’s a constant question of what will distract them at every new venue, but that’s what rehearsals are for.
As for his goal? Simply to entertain.
“I want to see smiles,” he says. “It’s good to be performing (here) for friends and family.”
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.