After many local youth circus performances were put on hold last year due to COVID-19, the community has come back in 2021, finding creative ways to continue their work of building up young performers with smaller, outdoor shows and performances.
Youth circus has a long history in Wilton, and most of it can be traced back to Rick and Jackie Davis. Jackie Davis, a circus educator, founded Flying Gravity Circus in 1999, and is the executive director of the Silver Lining Circus Camp, a summer program and offshoot of Flying Gravity.
When Flying Gravity was faced with moving forward in 2021 or canceling a second straight season, Davis said she wanted to make sure another summer wasn’t completely lost.
“We needed to find a way that reinforced all the hard work the kids put into training and we needed a way to bring the community together, safely and responsibly, during a time when things are, frankly, a bit rough,” Davis said.
“Youth circus is a national movement,” said Jon Roitman, artistic director and head coach for Flying Gravity Circus. “It’s not unique to us. It’s a challenging, but non-competitive sport that has something for everyone.”
Roitman, a professional circus performer and coach, would know. He himself grew up in Wilton, and cut his own performing teeth as a seventh-grade student at the Pine Hill Waldorf School, where he now teaches physical education, and runs the Hilltop Circus, the very program that introduced him to the art.
Roitman said circus marries the “theater kid” and the “sports kid” – it has a highly creative aspect, while also developing physical strength and coordination and cognitive development. And the shows are built by the young performers cooperatively, creating a social element.
It’s also typically performed by groups of people, for groups of people, a section of entertainment that was most hard-hit by coronavirus containment concerns. But this spring, Roitman said, with some precautions in place, youth circus is returning to the region.
Because one of the best things about the circus is it can happen anywhere.
Roitman said this spring, his performers were able to get back into the circus, under the open sky, giving both performers and audience members a COVID-19-safe way to enjoy circus again.
One of those ways was Flying Gravity’s “Circus in the Woods” project. In May, Flying Gravity performed four dates at local organizations, including the Harris Center, Beaver Brook, The Hooper Institute and The Andres Institute of Art.
Instead of one big show, performers had “stations” outdoors around the organization grounds, where they could perform individual skills, and the audience members roved around from station to station to see the performers.
And throughout this summer, Flying Gravity will also be organizing private shows for local nursing homes and retirement communities, as a way to still perform but in a controlled environment.
Roitman also was able to hold The Hilltop Circus this year, a school program attached to Pine Hill and High Mowing Schools in Wilton.
This year’s performance, titled “The Hilltop Circus Speaks for the Trees” was able to move forward with some COVID-19 precautions, including breaking performers into “pods” that were isolated from each other, to allow them to still practice pair or group acts. And, for the first time ever, Roitman said, the final performances weren’t open to the general public.
So, even if it looks a little different this year, the show will go on.
“Circus is an adaptable art form. The devil is in the details and in the work you put in,” Davis said.
Ashley Saari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.