Up Close and Personal

The Circus Arts Conservatory Delivers Thrills in the Intimate Historic Asolo Theater

Summer is the perfect time to escape to the big top.

By Kay Kipling June 14, 2024

Antino Pansa walking the slack rope.
Antino Pansa walking the slack rope.

Summer is the perfect time to escape to the big top, and the Circus Arts Conservatory has adrenaline junkies covered with its annual Summer Circus Spectacular, which you can catch from now until Saturday, Aug. 17, in The Ringling’s Historic Asolo Theater. Conservatory founder, president and chief executive officer Pedro Reis says this is the 18th time his company has brought the magic of the circus to the museum grounds. “It started as a two-week program, but has been so successful that it’s now a nine-week program,” he says. “Last year we sold out 90 percent of all shows.” 

There’s no doubt that the HAT, as it’s called, is a unique spot in which to watch circus performers entertain. Seating just 275 people, it’s so intimate that you can hear every gasp and laugh coming from your fellow audience members. Of course, the partnership makes perfect sense for the museum, given its connection to circus magnate John, and it feels more fitting than ever since it opened its new Greatest Show on Earth Gallery, which covers the history of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus after it was acquired by Palmetto’s Feld Entertainment. That makes it possible for museumgoers to observe and interact with more circus history than ever before, then drop by the HAT to see an hourlong live performance.

The Bello Sisters’ acrobatic hand balancing act
The Bello Sisters’ acrobatic hand balancing act

This season’s lineup includes master of ceremonies Jared Walker, contortionist Uranbileg Angarag, the Bello Sisters’ acrobatic hand balancing act, hair hang artist Camille Langlois, popular clown Renaldo, slack wire performer Antino Pansa and Cyr wheel performer Zorè España. It’s the first time performing in the HAT for both Pansa and España, although both have entertained in the area before. While every stage has specific nuances that force circus performers to adjust their acts, both say they are thrilled to be working in the venue.

Pansa first gave a rudimentary version of the slack wire a try as a kid. “When I was 13, my dad brought me in front of the house and installed an old cutoff electric wire between two coconut trees and stood on it,” recalls the Guyanese circus artist, who is of French nationality. “He was able to balance, and I was so mind-blown that I wanted to be just like him. I tried it for weeks and couldn’t stand on it. Then, one day, it broke, and my mom told me to never try again or I’d hurt myself.” Needless to say, Pansa stuck with it, and a neighbor opened a circus school and invited him to attend. Now a graduate of the National Circus School of Montreal who is also a trampoline and floor acrobat, Pansa performs internationally, including in Cirque Du Soleil’s 2023 creation Echo.

Zorè España performs on the Cyr wheel.
Zorè España performs on the Cyr wheel.

España, meanwhile, grew up just down the road in Englewood and says circus arts are a rich part of her family history. “My mom was Dessi K. España, a record-holding hula hoop artist from Bulgaria, and my dad is a daredevil and award-winning flying trapeze artist from Mexico,” she says. So it was only natural that España began practicing with hula hoops at age 7 and took up the Cyr wheel at 15. The Cyr wheel is “an elegant circular apparatus,” she says, “one that provides a mesmerizing and dynamic display that I chose because of its graceful flow and challenging movements. I’m excited to share this art form with the audience here.”

Reis says that while the HAT can’t accommodate a trapeze or high wire, “we focus on the energy. There’s thrills, there’s beauty, there’s grace, there’s manipulation. The audience gets a variety of energies and disciplines, and they’re so close to the stage. It really makes it intimate and comfortable for everybody. Every single artist that has performed at the HAT is so thankful for the opportunity. It’s such a beautiful space.”

To purchase tickets to the Summer Circus Spectacular, visit ringling.org. If you’re heading north this summer, the Circus Arts Conservatory is bringing a different version of its family-friendly circus show to Lenox, Massachusetts, July 19-28, with SummerSaults in the Berkshires

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