The circus kids are all right

Once upon a time, it was one of a parent’s worst nightmares that their kid might someday run off and join the circus. Nowadays, seeing their offspring fly through the air with the greatest of ease can be a dream come true.

Take, for example, the proud parents of kids in the popular CirKids program, a non-profit circus school based in the PNE that has been pumping out aspiring acrobats, jugglers, tightrope walkers, trapeze artists, contortionists and the loose-limbed like for more than 25 years.

“My mom got me into it,” said Laura Evans, 18. “I was a really active little kid, and I needed something to do. I went to a Cirque du Soleil show and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, circus is so cool!’ My mom then found this for me, and I’ve been doing it since I was nine.”

T time: Christine Konrad holds Laura Evans in the air during rehearsal. (Jason Lang photo)

“My mom actually had to convince me to come,” added Christine Konrad. “There was one girl at my school who was already enrolled, and everybody thought she was really weird because she would ride a unicycle to school. But then my mom convinced me to try and I just completely fell in love with it.”

CirKids were most recently seen dazzling crowds at Robson Square and Granville Island when the world came to town for the Winter Games. For their next performance, they want to bring audiences to the rest of the world by putting their own unique spin on Jules Verne’s classic 1873 novel Around the World in 80 Days.

“It’s very loosely adapted,” said Konrad, noting that circus acts didn’t figure prominently in Phileas Fogg and trusty valet Passepartout’s original madcap adventures in circumnavigating the globe.

A case in point is the character of Passepartout himself.

“We split the character in two,” said Evans, who stopped by The Record’s office with Konrad and fellow co-stars Roselie LeBlanc and Royal City resident Tarise Poulin before a recent rehearsal. “There’s now a Passa and a Partout. I’m Passa and my partner that I do hand-to-hand with is Partout.”

For the uninitiated, hand-to-hand, formally known as the French “main-a-main,” is a precarious balancing act that’s a bit like a mix between headstands, extreme synchronized yoga and dancing. It is just one of many skills taught at the CircusWest Performing Arts Society, which also performs professionally and offers training for adults.

Students generally try their hand at all the various disciplines but naturally gravitate to certain areas.

Konrad, for example, likes the “Roue-cyr ” best, which involves standing braced inside a large hoop and rotating around. None of the other three girls do this particular trick, but it’s not due to a lack of ability. “We’re just too short,” said Poulin.

The New Westminster girl, 17, said her favourite is the trapeze, while all four are fond of dangling high in the air from hoops.

One wheel drive: Tarise Poulin practises on the unicycle during a CircusWest rehearsal. (Jason Lang photo)

While the troupe’s adult arm offers performances as well (most recently, they were part of the aerial team in the opening ceremony of the Olympics), Around the World in 80 Days will be performed entirely by highschoolers. The show runs twice a day from May 27 to 30 at the PNE Gardens at 12:45 and 7 p.m. (matinee only on May 30).

Although all four young women are clearly having the time of their lives with the circus, none of the literally well-balanced teens say they plan on running away with the circus for good and will likely choose less risky (in more ways than one) careers paths.

“Next year I’m going to Simon Fraser and will probably go into science, do something normal for a change,” said Konrad with a laugh.

Their parents, proud as they must be, are probably relieved.

Tickets are $18, $15 for students and seniors, and just $12 for those, like most of the performers themselves, under 18. For more information, visit http://www.circuswest.com.

(This story was first published May 26, 2010. © Copyright (c) New West Record)

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