Not every community has a dance studio, but Portsmouth one ups that by also offering a circus school. While some communities may be shocked by the offering, it is just another unique opportunity the area has offered residents for two generations through Cirque d’Art Theatre.
The students of the performing arts organization have been working all year to bring an amazing season and are now ready to present their annual massive spring production, this time featuring the story of “Through the Looking Glass: Past and Present”
This year’s combined cast is over 130 local performers from age three to adult. Some of the students will perform in each of the four performances and some will perform in two.
“Each child in our program gets to participate in two shows and the older kids and more dedicated students who make circus a priority will get to perform in all four shows,” Director Pegi Wilkes explained.
Cirque’s most advanced group, Cirqueworks, features instructors and performers who are teens and adults. Many have participated in the program for years.
“Their level of professionalism onstage is amazing and thrilling to watch and is the reason that Cirque d’Art Theatre has never brought in outside guest dancers for lead roles,” Wilkes said. “All Cirque d’Art productions are 100 percent local adults and youth.”
While Wilkes takes the studio seriously, always expecting the best from her performers, she also knows that the mission is about providing opportunities for children at all levels.
“The main thing you must remember is that this is for the kids. They walk on the main stage of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts and they feel like they’re in New York City,” Wilkes said. “It is an amazing feeling to give them that opportunity, so, you don’t really get caught up in the small stuff and worry about all of that. A hairpiece may fall out or a tap may come loose, but the kids still get that really cool feeling of performing on a big, professional stage with great theatre technicians helping them.”
The show is a twist on a classic tale and Wilkes thinks the community will be impressed with what the theatre has managed to pull together.
“It is a twist on Alice Through the Looking Glass with a circus flair, of course. When Alice falls through the looking glass in a circus atmosphere, her personalities split,” Wilkes explained. “So, we get an Alice who is upbeat, and the Alice people will recognize. She wants everything to be right and perfect in Wonderland. We then have her split personality, Ecila, which is Alice spelled backwards, who is a little darker and wants time to stay fractured as things are topsy-turvy in Wonderland.”
Wilkes said that time is out of sync in Wonderland during the show and Alice is working to put things back to how they should be but is confronted by Ecila who wants to keep things chaotic.
“There are a lot of times where the two interact and they dance together,” Wilkes said. “It is like a haunting echo. It is a very strongly choreographed routine that is very lyrical in nature and interpretive.”
Alicia Bobst has been part of the Cirque d’Art family since 2005. She began working as a part-time dance assistant when she was 14. She then interned through a program with the Scioto Foundation before becoming the adult staff member focusing on the development and production side of the art. She is now 22, a recent Shawnee State University graduate, and working to give kids the same experiences she had as a youth in the program while working on her masters program. She currently focuses on costuming, is director of the preschool program, and manages summer programming.
“I think Cirque is very important to the community. I find that, especially in our community, the students are starving to do something that is fun and outgoing that allows their creativity to grow. We offer that through our program and give them a say in their creative work,” Bobst said. “Most of our staff, if not all, were all students at one point. We get choreographers who know what the students like and what they want to do, because they were once students themselves and have done this all before. That component to our studio is very unique and I think it makes us what we are.”
Bobst said that the circus does a lot of community performances and volunteerism, from library showcases at events like the Bridgerton Ball to free performances for Hillview residents. These larger shows are still important and give the kids a chance to feel important as they take the main stage.
“The children come first. We will always make sure they’re enjoying what they’re doing. We are doing a lot of community involvement and audience interaction with this one, though, which we don’t include often,” Bobst said. “There will be opportunities for them to dance and we may be throwing some things out into the audience for them. At the end of the day, many of the guests are family of the performers and we want them to be involved and join in on that fun, too.”
Cirque d’Art Theatre is a non-profit performing arts instructional program, offering sliding-scale tuition and scholarship opportunities for local participants. Funding from the Scioto Foundation, Scioto County Commissioners, and Southern Ohio Medical Center make the tuition assistance program possible.
“Through the Looking Glass: Past and Present” will run June 2, 3 and 4 at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts. The curtain will open at 7 p.m. on June 2, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on June 3, and 2 p.m. on June 4. Admission is $17 for general admission, $12 for students, and $10 for 12 and under. For more information, call the McKinley Box Office, 740.351.3600.
Reach Joseph Pratt at (740) 353-3101, by email at [email protected], © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved