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Le Cirque presents 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

Circus arts academy director Lorenzo SantaBarbara says there’s an important piece of advice he gives his students: “Don’t let go. Whatever happens, do not let go. That is their focus: To never let go.”

“These students work hard,” he says. “When they’re not performing, they pulling, knot-tying or holding onto someone or something. We are the tech team. I design the plot and hire a certified rigger. It’s a serious undertaking.”

Le Cirque Centre students’ ages range from 5 to 18, and the academy’s most advanced students are the Empyrean Aerialists. Some have been in the program for at least five years, others as many as eight years.

The circus academy’s new “The Greatest Show on Earth,” choreographed and directed by SantaBarbara, will feature the Empyrean acrobats, dancers and aerialists at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, in the Mountain Avenue Theatre at Ashland High School, 201 S. Mountain Ave. Look for hip-hop dancers from Ashland Danceworks in the scene “This Is Me,” along with acrobatic duo Mountain Parkour. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, and can be purchased at greatestshow.brownpapertickets.com, Music Coop, or at the door. See socircus.org for information.

Written by SantaBarbara, “The Greatest Show on Earth” tells the story of Sara, a homeless young girl reduced to begging for a living, played by Ashland Middle School student Kaimalia Mielke. When she’s noticed by a circus ringleader, played by Keona Hajje, a sophomore at Ashland High School, she’s invited to “join the circus.”

Dropped into the hands of acrobats, trapeze artists and aerialists by the busy ringleader, Sara is overwhelmed as the performers tumble through the air, spin and fly to extraordinary heights. Things she’s never seen before happen in front of her eyes.

“She vacillates between awe and apprehension,” SantaBarbara says.

Written with humor, Sara retreats into a large box, something like a place a homeless person would go, and the show opens with Mountain Parkour — acrobats Rylan Mount and Liam Petee — a subgroup of Empyrean Aerialists.

Then Sara is befriended by a trapeze artist, played by Rogue Community College student Sonora Jessup. There is the crux, the pivotal point, and Sara finds the courage and her confidence to dance in the air with the others.

Mielke’s particular talent is hammock soloist, or silk loop dancer. There are silk ropes, or long pieces of fabric used like ropes, and there are silk loops, long pieces of looped fabric.

“This show is very entertaining,” SantaBarbara says. “It’s got some beautiful music and absolutely stunning scenes and costuming. Just the silks themselves are so diverse in color, and acrobatics are highly kinetic. All of the music is from ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack. The story will capture your heart.”

From the Mountain Avenue Theatre in Ashland, “The Greatest Show on Earth” goes to the 500-seat Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for Performing Arts in Eugene for a show on Saturday, Feb. 16.

“It’s a professional performance, and it will put you on the edge of your seat,” SantaBarbara says. “We’re as professional as any teen group could be. These kids do not put on recitals.”

That argument and a good word from Bounce Gymnastic and Circus Arts based in Eugene closed the deal with the Hult Center.

It’s the rigging that presents the biggest challenge.

“When you run a circus, there’s always rigging,” SantaBarbara says. “I have to run a plot for each show. I have to derig. I have to make sure everything is labeled for the certified rigger. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes.”

Most of SantaBarbara’s students are from middle and high schools, and some are from John Muir School and The Siskiyou School.

“Kids who play traditional sports do not come to Le Cirque Centre,” SantaBarbara says. “These are children who are more artistic. They’re not really into competition. They’re looking for a program that will be athletic and artistic. That’s my observation.

“I wouldn’t call them mainstream students, but usually by the time they’re in high school, they’ve become more mainstream, just not sports oriented. In my younger grades, I have a lot of pretty shy children, but once they accomplish circus arts they become more confident. The let go of their fear and connect.”

Technical director for “The Greatest Show on Earth” is Doug Ham; sound is by Starlie Bertrand; lighting by Tobin Mulhdkind; and Andreas Rossberg of Eugene is certified rigger.

Additional Photo Credit: Mary Wilkins Kelly

Dancer and trapeze artist Wiloe Stannard appears in Le Cirque Centre's "The Greatest Show on Earth." Photo by Eric Mindling