Circus Art in the Arctic gets warm

Most people in South Central
Alaska have known the circus to be
an annual state fair event stock with
ringmaster, elephants, horses, candy,
and a big striped tent, but it’s not the
only circus in town.
The space at the state fair for Circus
Borealis, recently sold to Motocross,
and local circus entertainment
has fallen upon a motley group of
underground performers, working
in some way to keep an aspect of the
circus art and lifestyle alive.
With the rising popularity of the
surrealistic circus show Cirque du
Soleil, alternative circus performers
around the nation are becoming more
visible to the masses.
Megan Holtan is the founder of
Anchortown Circus, a small business
dedicated to expanding opportunities
for circus practice and performance
in Alaska.
“The problem is that our culture
doesn’t have a tradition of live
performance,” Holtan said. “I find it
hard to have circus acts accepted as a
true art form.”
Born and raised in Anchorage,
Holtan got hooked on unicycle and
juggling when she was 14. While
attending college in Chicago several
years ago, she organized large student
circuses, and taught with Chicago
Youth Circus/CircEsteem Inc., a nonprofit organization that unites kids
from across the city and works to
build their self-esteem via the circus
arts.
“I perform circus arts because
it allows me to be many things: a
juggler, a musician, an athlete, a
businesswoman, a director, a teacher,
a seamstress, a carpenter, and a
dancer,” Holtan said.
Holtan teaches workshops with the
Anchortown Jugglers, a faction under
the umbrella of Anchortown Circus
that meets once a week to juggle at
the Fairview Recreation Center. The
Center is one of the only places in
town that can accommodate them.
Holtan said she worries that
under the new interim mayor the
municipality might make it harder.
A key member for the Anchortown
Jugglers, Roger Reoh said he thinks the
Alaska circus scene is expanding.
“It’s a slow process,” Reoh said.
“Our turn-out for the juggling night is
starting to grow-people are interested.”
Reoh also is the founder of the AK Fire
Circus, a group of performers who juggle
with fi re objects. Reoh said he would like to
see more formal classes and workshops.
As a fi re juggler, Reoh said the obstacles
he faces most are people’s fear.
“It’s a liability. People don’t know
what to expect,” Reoh said. “They love to
watch, but they’re afraid you’re going to
light yourself on fi re or something.”
Reoh said many people have shown
interest and enjoy watching fi re juggling,
but the problem is having a regular place
to practice and perform, particularly in the
winter months.
Jessica Joy, an aerialist from Los Angeles,
faces a similar challenge of not having a
place to practice or anyone that will let her.
Joy said that it is mainly a liability issue.
Most aerialist schools require signing
something equivalent to a death waver.
While in Los Angeles, Joy trained
at professional schools for aerialists,
including training in circus fi tness, a brief
trend in Southern California.
When Joy came across Holtan’s
Anchortown Circus on the Internet, she
decided to move to Alaska to fi nd a niche
in the state’s growing circus entertainment.
She is currently one of the only aerialists
in town.
Last summer was fi lled with
opportunities, said Joy. The weather
permitted the perfect outdoor arenas.
However, winter has been much harder.
The cold means there are limited places for
aerialists to perform, as indoor performing
requires high enough ceilings.
Like Holtan and Reoh, Joy said she
would like to see an Anchorage troupe
form that encompassed all of the different
types of circus performers.
“[To create a troupe] it’s going to take
community support, and also a venue,”
Joy said.
Perhaps the days of big tops and
ringleaders are over, but with the help of
Anchorage’s daring circus performers, the
time-honored tradition of circus art may
still be alive and well in Alaska.