- July 2, 2013
The entire room held its breath. All of her husband’s weight was pushing down on her back, and both their bodies trembled as her eyes stared ahead, unwavering. An ideal image of concentration.
This summer, The Circus Arts Conservatory and The Ringling are stepping out of the ring and onto the stage to present a show everyone can enjoy — especially if the term “hand balancers” intrigues you.
The Summer Circus Spectacular includes four acts ranging from a local artist who can soar high above the ground on aerial silks to a music-infused crossbow routine in which a couple takes turns shooting arrows dangerously close to each other’s vital organs.
It all takes place in the Historic Asolo Theater, which provides an intimate setting where performers can connect with the audience more directly than the traditional big top allows.
“The connection with the audience is different,” hand balancer Virginia Tuells says. “We can see everyone’s facial expressions and all the small details. You can play more with the audience.”
Tuells is one half of the balancing act Duo Fusion, which she performs with her husband, Giovani Perez.
Tuells and Perez found their love for circus early in life, then it turned into even more — a love for each other. Today, they’re married with a 5-month-old daughter, Sofia, who waits backstage during the performance at the Asolo for her parents to finish balancing on top of one another.
Perez started in gymnastics when he was 6 years old, which led him to circus school in Cuba. Tuells realized she enjoyed performing in more artistic ways than traditional gymnastics, so she began traveling the world in search of circus schools not offered in her native Argentina.
The couple decided to create an act so they would never have to be apart, no matter the contract.
Tuells and Perez have been working for 10 years on the act that is featured as the finale for the Summer Circus Spectacular.
“We thought it would be interesting to do something different,” Tuells says. “Normally the man is the base and the woman is the one on the top. We wanted to try the reverse … We really like the audience’s reaction when they are watching something they weren’t expecting.”
The one act that audiences see multiple times during the circus is Renaldo The Clown, aka Al Calienes. Before the audience takes their seats, Renaldo is already on stage, throwing a hat to the crowd and leading them in a steady stream of laughter-inducing games, juggling acts and other buffoonery.
Renaldo started as a commercial illustrator before he joined the circus. While working as an artist, he realized he wanted to draw for children. He created Renaldo as a storybook character before he became a circus performer. In 1989, he created the children’s book, “Renaldo Joins the Circus.”
But confining his character to the pages of a book wasn’t enough. Renaldo wanted to bring his character into real life.
“The idea was to take the two things and put them together,” Renaldo says.“Being a good illustrator made me a good clown. Being a good clown made me a better illustrator.”
Renaldo says he’s considered an audience-participation clown because he specializes in analyzing a crowd quickly to determine who would be most comfortable joining him on the stage. Something as simple as tossing a hat into the audience is a way to evaluate who is anxious at the prospect of participating (catching it) and who is most excited by it.
Renaldo hopes the legacy of his clown routine will be kept alive through his own kids.
“My youngest looks just like me and I named him Renaldo after my clown,” he says. “One day my son will wear the suit and people will think Renaldo The Clown lives forever.”
Like Renaldo, Duo Fusion loves the effect their act has on younger kids. Seeing young fans attempting a version of the impressive feats the couple performs onstage makes them proud, Tuells says. They enjoy inspiring young people to face physical challenges.
“We are projecting something good, even as a husband and wife,” she says. “We have such trust, not only in life but in our act. We always try to project something positive for the whole family.”
The circus is a lifestyle, Perez says, and it’s one that they hope their child will embrace as well someday.
“It’s about encouraging the exploration of art to our children,” Renaldo agrees. “We as parents try to open up a wide variety of disciplines that they can choose from.”
But it’s a lifestyle that will take a great deal of passion, the performers agree. They say there is no halfway commitment with this job.
“You can’t kind of walk across the Grand Canyon on a wire,” Renaldo says. “You can’t almost get shot out of a cannon. There’s no gray area in circus.”
While describing what makes a dynamic circus show like this successful, Renaldo thinks back to his days spent working as a bartender.
“It’s like mixing a cocktail,” he says. “If you don’t mix it right, it’s not going to taste good. There has to be something a little bit sweet, a little bit tart, and a little kick here and there. You have to know your craft.”