Cirque d’Art Theatre to enter 15th season

Submitted photo Two Cirque d’Art students performing in “Le Nutcracker Cirque” at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts.

Joseph Pratt

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Cirque d’Art Theatre Directors Pegi Wilkes and Trisha Schmidt are closing another successful and mind-boggling season of back-to-back classes and growing performances at their circus arts and dance studio.

The directors claim the studio continues to burst at the seams, with a final enrollment of over 250 students and a growing staff of older students who have stepped up to teach and assist.

Over 300 students were involved in the many performances this year. The organization plans its focus season early in the summer, which consists of the major seasonal shows for their different age groups. They then plan a plethora of other events for local organizations, parades, performing art groups and more.

The major acts within the organization’s season include “Dracula,” the annual “Le Nutcracker Cirque,” and the spring/summer season wrap-up entitled “Legends.”

Between the major performances, they had a major involvement in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and celebration, as they do every year; they also returned to Huntington to assist in another theatrical performance, this year being the title “Barnum,” as well as many other youth performances and public benefits.

Both directors unanimously agreed that the highlight of the season was the addition of “Dracula,” which will be a new annual event on the calendar.

Wilkes said that she has long awaited to cast the show, but needed to wait for older, more mature, and seasoned dancers before it could be possible. Modeling last year’s show after the Ballet Met, the wildly successful show threw many of the dancers into more ballet classes, The final product stunned audiences enough to cause not only an encore of the particular cast, but an annual encore of the story. The directors are now working on new additions and more story for the show in order to grow it into their own.

“We have wanted to produce ‘Dracula; for a very, very long time, but we lacked the talent and maturity to pull it off,” Wilkes said. “Our dancers have improved so much and well enough for the show, so I’d say that is the season’s largest highlight, because it shows growth and a new direction.”

The show changed the demographics and the classes offered, in order to provide a more ballet oriented cast of dancers. Wilkes said she is shocked, but pleased with the results, because the changes will improve the shows.

“’Dracula’ was extremely successful and better than we thought it was going to be,” Schmidt said. “We actually had to stage an encore performance, because we sold so many tickets and people loved it.”

“Le Nutcracker Cirque” has been an annual celebration for many years and continues strong. The show remains the most popular show of Cirque and opens curtain on the professional Vern Riffe Center for the Arts Stage. The show is adapted with new dancers and new additions to the story every year, as well as new aerials and routines.

Their season wrap-up of “Legends: on the stage and screen” might be the last of its kind for the troupe, as the administrators review how the season is prepared.

Wilkes explained that the final show of the season has remained a performance without a plot for a while, but she would like to see a change. During these events, students have choreographed numbers and routines and they take turns wowing the audience with the lessons learned in a year. The show has been the longest and largest title they produce and requires the entire space of the West Portsmouth Middle School gymnasium to accommodate the equipment.

Another highlight of the 2014-2015 season included the accomplishment of a single Cirque student, Sami Matthews. Matthew received the honor of being accepted into the limited amount of performers in attendance at the prestigious intensive summer camp at École Nationale de Cirque. The list of requirements to be accepted is long and the waiting list to enter the camp is even longer. Mattthews is spending the days of July in Montreal, learning advanced skills in circus arts. The program is often used to locate talent and many go on to further their skills, some even join the cast of Cirque du Soleil.

“Sami is the role model for the kids. She can bend, she can tumble, she can climb and hang, she can dance, and she has beautiful form in ballet,” Wilkes said. “She is really the total package and our younger kids see that and want to be just like Sami. She is one-take Sami; she sees something once and then she can do it.”

The directors claimed that the success of the passing season is a miracle, and proof of the dedication of those involved, seeing as the season had all the starting points of trouble.

Just before last season began, a flood wiped out everything in the building’s basement. Everything needed replaced, from structures to flooring, but the staff and students all worked together to fix the problems. Many parents even assisted in getting the damage repaired at reasonable costs. The final product was a newly improved and renovated space that students have for classrooms.

With momentum of last season, and a new space only recently broken in, the troupe looks ahead to furthered success.

Cirque’s major pursuits for the next calendar year currently sit pretty with the newest annual addition of “Dracula” on October 23, 24, 30, and 31, “Le Nutcracker Cirque” will run December 10, 11, and 12, and the unannounced season finale will fall on June 9, 10, and 11. All of the above shows start at 7 p.m. “Dracula” and “Nutcracker” will also have a 2 p.m. matinee on final performance day.

Through the ongoing partnership with Huntington theatre director Eddie Harbert, the group will travel once again to Huntington to provide dance numbers to one of his major musicals. The partnership grows to encompass more this year, however, with Harbert joining the circus staff. Harbert will be making trips to Portsmouth to teach the dancers more about acting and will work on getting their shows with heavy plot more realistic.

“Eddie has been wonderful to work with,” Schmidt said. “He always remains very professional and works extremely well with young adults. We are excited to grow on our partnership with him both in Huntington and in Portsmouth.”

Inspired by Matthews and the international circus school, Wilkes and Schmidt also plan on hosting an intensive summer camp. The camp will have the strict requirements for admission, just as the circus school has, and will be for the elite students of Cirque d’Art. Schmidt said the camp is going to be very hard on the students, but she and Wilkes believe it will produce many improved skills.

As always, there will be many performances throughout the year that Cirque students are involved in.

Registration dates for new students fall on July 27 and August 25, from 4 to 6 p.m. The season begins on September 14.

Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.

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