Australian acrobats visit Englert

BY ERIC HAWKINSON | MAY 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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Daniel Crisp flips through the air effortlessly, soaring over five women who sit scrunched together on the stage. He finishes the trick with a perfect landing. But there’s no time to bask in the applause — the clock is ticking fast. On to the next act.

Miles away from his home of Brisbane, Australia, Crisp takes pride in saying he has the best job in the world — an acrobat in a traveling circus.

“What’s there not to love about it? I even love being sore,” he said in his Aussie accent. “We’ve got the best life ever — we get to travel the world and get immersed into all these different cultures, do what you love as hard as you can, and get to meet all these cool people, and you get to do it with your best friends. I couldn’t be happier working with them.”

But this isn’t your typical circus act.

Crisp and his crew have pushed past the formulas of typical circuses, and come up with something they call Circa, 61 Circus Acts In 60 Minutes. The group of four acrobats, all from Australia, fight against the clock as they do an average of one act per minute. Circa has wowed audiences with its mind-boggling balancing techniques, acrobatic flips, and feats of contortion.

The troupe will visit Iowa City in collaboration with Hancher to perform in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., at 2 p.m. Saturday. Admission ranges from $10 to $28.

Hancher Program Director Jacob Yarrow believes the show does a great job appealing to the youngest and oldest of crowds. He said both children and adults will love it.

“I would describe it as high-energy, entertaining; it’s very smart and sophisticated — it’s a lot of fun,” Yarrow said. “One of the things we look for — especially what we’re programming for families — is a show that will appeal to a large age range.”

Although the tour has been both physically and mentally challenging for the Circa members, Crisp said, they have had an tremendous time.

The crew has been making TV appearances on local and national networks and has also visited local schools to provide acrobatic workshops for kids — in Iowa City, the crew will visit Lucas Elementary to do the same. Hancher Education Programming Director Erin Donohue, who has been trying to work with Lucas Elementary for the past semester, is pleased to help present the Circa members for the school.

“They’ll probably do some basic acro-balancing, some tumbling — they might even do some hula hoops,” Donahue said. “And then they’ll probably do like a little mini performance for the students as well.”

For Crisp, performing at the Englert and performing at an elementary school is the same. As an athlete who challenges himself in any endeavor, he constantly strives for perfection no matter who is watching.

“Something I really enjoy about this company is if you were going to a show in front of 10,000 people in Montréal in front of the most intense circus crowd you’ll ever perform to, or if you’re performing in your local theater in Brisbane, those shows are going to be the same,” he said.

The Circa members met while studying at the National Institute for Circus Arts in Melbourne, Australia. As time progressed, they grew closer, accumulated a large number of tricks, and began putting on shows.

Crisp said all the team members are incredibly athletic. Members of the group have competed internationally and nationally in sports acrobats, synchronized swimming, and tae kwon do. They all take special care of their bodies by eating healthily, as well as performing stretches before and after workouts. Nothing, however, can really prepare the body in overcoming jet lag during a world tour, he said.

The first flight of the tour, he said, they were delayed, which forced them to miss their connecting flight to New York.

“It added about an extra 10 hours on top,” Crisp said. “We all had anticipated a bit of tiredness and jet lag — we’d all been overseas before, but man, we were sick. I think I was the worst.”

Even the changing time zones and scheduled days off do little to help the aching bodies and tired minds of the Circa crew. This is dangerous for an acrobat because it’s important to think sharply while performing.

“Danger is a relative word,” Crisp said. “There’s always danger involved, you know, one slip, and that can be the end of it for you, possibly more people. We try to take the most precautions we can with safety.”

The 23-year-old has been an acrobat for much of his life — so the danger of the work has been modified by his years of experience. In any event, Crisp is very proud of the work he does with Circa. The show is not your typical circus performance, he said.

“It’s very jam-packed,” he said. “A lot of high-energy acrobatics, quite a bit of Australian comedy, which has been going down quite well here in America.”

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