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The language of acrobatics

There's more than one way to express heartache, romantic notions and the ups and downs of human relationships. Music, art, poetry and prose are powerful tools for these expressions.

Acrobatic Conundrum — a Seattle-based, contemporary circus arts company — uses the language of acrobatics, juggling and aerial stunts to portray stories of unconventional love and the complexity of human relationships in its new show, "Love & Gravity."

The troupe is out on national tour and will make a stop to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26, at Le Cirque Centre, 280 E. Hersey St., Ashland. Admission is $15, $10 for students and seniors, and tickets can be purchased online at http://bit.ly/LoveandGravityASH or at the door.

One member of Acrobatic Conundrum, Ty Vennewitz, has made Ashland his home since September. He splits his time between teaching at Le Cirque Centre and performing with Acrobatic Conundrum.

"Our show is a mix of music, dialogue and letting the physicality of circus speak for itself," he says during a telephone interview. "Audiences can expect the classic circus disciplines, juggling aerials and acrobatics, but taken out of the framework of glitz and show biz and placed in an everyday environment. We are not playing roles, but playing ourselves as a talented cast that has trained for years to be able to perform some amazing feats that hopefully will surprise and engage people."

The troupe, founded in 2012 by Artistic Director Terry Crane, will present a thematically linked set of short stories — a rich, diverse piece that is distinctly American, told only as circus artists can, according to Acrobatic Conundrum's press release. The show explores how humans make and seek connection, and the stories are designed to leave audiences thoughtful and open about the way they love.

"The way to do that can be as simple as a rope dancer or aerialist pulling another cast member up off the ground," Vennewitz says. "Leaving the ground and taking flight together is a physical connection. Each discipline, whether it's hand-to-hand, partner acrobatics or dancing, is closely connected. As a clown, my job is to go into the audience and make connections with individuals. It's everything from greeting people as they come into the theater to circus tricks.

"Our idea is to make the show something accessible," Vennewitz says. "I come from a modern dance background, and I've experienced that feeling like I don't really understand. One of the ways we connect is by using actual dialogue and presenting the stories with duos and trios."

Conundrum is Seattle's premier contemporary circus arts company, according to the press release. It creates ensemble-based performances that blend circus skills, dance and physical theater to create work that is poetic, beautiful, a little absurd and relatable. This circus arts company has produced six shows that have appeared nationally and internationally at New York City’s SummerStage, Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival, Smithsonian Museum’s Renwick Gallery, Vancouver CircusFest, TEDxRainier, The Backstreet Festival in Alexandria, Egypt, and NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts’ Circus Now: International Contemporary Circus Exposure.

The company is a 2015 recipient of Seattle’s CityArtist Projects Award and is artist-in-residence at the School of Acrobatics and News Circus Arts. See www.acrobaticconundrum.com to learn more.

Circus artists Crane, Vennewitz, Scotty Dont, Erica Rubinstein and Xochitl Sosa make up the cast for "Love & Gravity," along with local performers in each city. The Ashland show will feature Maureen Frieder of Le Cirque's Levity troupe and Seattle-based Anna Thomas-Henry. 

Denizens of Ashland may have noticed Vennewitz performing with his Cyr wheel in Chautauqua Square in front of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Black Swan Theatre. Vennewitz stands inside the large, steel ring to perform cartwheels, acrobatic moves and spin like a coin, or gyroscopically. The apparatus takes its name from Daniel Cyr, who reinvented the wheel as a circus prop at the end of the 20th century.

"It's a great way to practice outside on a sunny day," Vennewitz says.