Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Modern ring to it — Traveling circus puts human feats center stage

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Alaskans don’t need a circus to see exotic animals. But aerial acrobatics, magic, contortionism and other exotic human feats of skill, balance, athleticism and finesse — well, that’s a horse of a different color.

That figurative horse will be on display today, March 18, at the Soldotna Sports Center, as the International All-Star Circus performs at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The International exhibition is a modern circus, one where humans, not animals, are the centers of attention.

“It’s Ringling Brothers meets Cirque du Soleil. The American flair with the big production acts and cotton candy and kids’ room bounce, things like that. It also has beautiful aerial ballet and quality of performance, acts in that type with a modern, clean circus,” said Cornell “Tuffy” Nicholas, ringmaster and producer of the International All-Star Circus.

Nicholas has a background in traditional circus, with his father being a ringmaster with Ringling Brothers for 27 years and his mother being a polar bear trainer with Ringling. He went on to explore myriad styles of entertainment and now has 30 years experience promoting and producing live productions, including the Moscow State Circus and Moscow International Circus, concerts, festivals and sporting events.

The appeal of the modern circus style, for Nicholas, is putting human accomplishments onstage.

“It’s just more fun when you don’t have animals in your show. You must compensate for that with more acts and stronger acts and that’s why I bring in these big troupes, daredevils, the best contortionist, the best clowns and the best acrobats. The show has to be fantastic to keep the expectation of a quality show traveling around the world. When you don’t have animals, you must do more,” he said.

The cast includes 26 performers, including circus professionals from Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia and Germany, as well as members of the famous Flying Wallenda family. Acts include strong man, high-wire routines, a contortionist, clowns, magic and various feats of acrobatics and balance.

“It’s really about quality and jaw-dropping feats. We always try to find things that people have not seen before,” Nicholas said. “Aerial ballet is beautiful, the contortionist is really amazing. This girl, it’s hard to describe, when she does some of these feats you cringe, you smile, you squirm in your seat, you wonder how she does it.”

Creating the show is the best part for Nicholas.

“The fun part for me is really assembling the performers and putting together the acts. Through years growing up in the circus and having different shows I know most of the best performers, and then I constantly get CDs in the mail and requests to go to YouTube to look at things, and sometimes travel different places in the world to look at different acts. That’s the fun part — watching it come together,” he said.

Nichols recently stepped beyond his behind-the-scenes work producing the show to take center stage as ringmaster, following in his father’s footsteps.

“Now I’m out in the ring with all the different performers, and it’s just a lot of fun,” he said.

The International All-Star Circus is on an Alaska tour, with performances in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Soldotna. Ticket prices vary depending on general admission, preferred seating and advanced purchase. Advanced purchase tickets for general admission are $11 for kids and $19 for adults, and advance purchase tickets for preferred seating are $22.50 for kids and $30 for adults. Tickets at the door are $14 for kids and $22 for adults for general admission, and $27.50 for kids and $35 for adults for preferred seating. Advanced tickets are available online at www.takemetothecircus.com.

“It’s 26 people performing live onstage in some of the most modern and incredible performances you’ll ever see in your life, no matter where you are. This show could play Madison Square Garden, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit — this is a show that would do well anywhere on the face of the planet,” Nicholas said.

More information about the circus can be found at www.internationalallstarcircus.com.

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