Highwire artists perform a human bridge during the opening performance of the UniverSoul Circus last year in Norfolk. (Bill Tiernan | The Virginian-Pilot)
By Joy Vann
May 24, 2012
The UniverSoul Circus will bring a stable of tigers, horses and elephants when it returns to Norfolk for a six-day run starting Tuesday at the Gallery at Military Circle.
It will also include a collection of performers with enough worldliness to impress the United Nations.
Beneath its big top, UniverSoul Circus will showcase 14 acts from around the world including Shaolin Kung Fu acrobats from China, contortionists from Mongolia, Russian swing artists from Belarus, dancers from Trinidad and Tobago, and hip-hop dancers from the United States, among others.
Performing on the aerial straps apparatus will be Jean-Claude of France with Brazilian Tatiana Oliviera. The duo will be suspended 20 feet above the circus, dancing in the air while displaying strength and flexibility moves.
This is Jean-Claude's second stint with UniverSoul Circus. During his first stretch, his choreography for the circus' 1998 HBO television special received an Emmy nomination. In a recent phone call, he laughed, noting that Janet Jackson took home the Emmy that year and adding that he was proud to be in such good company.
Jean-Claude transitioned from dance to the circus arts when he was 17 and attended a circus academy in Paris that was founded by famed clown and circus performer Annie Frattelini. While performing in Scotland, he was spotted by a UniverSoul talent scout, and he has been with the troupe since. All of UniverSoul Circus' acts are incredible, he said, naming a few standouts.
"The bone breakers, crazy bones, we call the contortionists. They are incredible, must see.... There are the beautiful dancers who open the show," he said. "The Chinese monks' presentation is so interesting, it's outstanding. The show has great melody. It's very well-balanced."
Jean-Claude said that when he started performing with the UniverSoul Circus he was surprised by two things. The first was simply that there were so many black circus performers - very different from his experiences in Europe. The second surprise was the enthusiastic audience participation.
"I was amazed by the interaction between what goes on onstage and the audience. This makes it very different. That is what makes it special. They are dancing, laughing, singing. It's a big family party. The kids are happy, screaming and moving, and the parents, too, are screaming like kids," he said. "It's totally different from other shows I've worked in. In Europe, the audience waits until you're finished to start clapping. At UniverSoul, when the curtain opens the audience is already screaming and clapping, and we haven't even performed yet."