The circus is coming to town.
No, not the travelling, big-top variety, with clowns, elephants and monkeys in costumes. In fact, if that’s your first thought, you just might be dating yourself.
Rather, Circus West—with aerial artists, acrobats, projections and elaborate costumes—is performing its production Fireflight-A Supernatural Circus in Whistler, kicking off the Arts Whistler Live! Series on Friday, Sept. 23 at the Maury Young Arts Centre.
“Circus definitely is rising in popularity,” says Jay Nunns, artistic director with Circus West. “It’s a bit of an escape, but it’s also another way to tell stories. With the advent of Cirque du Soleil being so huge—we’ve been kicking around a long time too—it’s not fringe anymore. It’s mainstream.”
For its part, the Vancouver-based non-profit runs programs and classes for kids interested in circus arts, but also performs at community and corporate events.
Its Fireflight show focuses on animals of the Pacific Northwest to tell a story. “It’s simple, but at the same time, it’s layered,” Nunns says. “There’s the circus and animals for the kids. But for adults, there’s a bit about conservation and altruism, stepping up, not just being a bystander. But we don’t hammer it on the head. At the end of the day, it’s about cool tricks and aerial artistry and trying to connect.”
Many of the performers started out as kids with Circus West’s programs and have turned it into a “side passion” as they work as computer programmers, architects, and physiotherapists by day.
“Everybody is coming to it from a different place,” Nunns says. “We’re looking at really honing our own talent and providing a forum for them to share their passion and earn some revenue.”
In fact, one of their dreams is to craft a show called Sea to Sky Circus and set up a residency in Whistler.
“Coming to Whistler with a show on the 23rd is to start a conversation with Whistler to bring a more fulsome show up there,” Nunns says.
“For people who live in the area [it could] provide work—a number of circus artists live in Whistler and Squamish and there are a number of disciplines, like slacklining, that we’d like to feature. This is a deliberate foot in the water,” he says.
He envisions the show highlighting natural features of the Sea to Sky region. Part of the appeal is the tourists, given that circus is one type of performance that transcends languages.
“We have a lot to offer and we’ve been crafting different narratives and stories about the region—and performing as different animals of the region—for three or four years,” Nunns says. “We think we have a pretty good handle on it. We’d like to take it to the next level.”
After two years cooped up, audiences seem to be keen to get out and experience all types of live performances. In fact, the Whistler show sold out well ahead of its Arts Whistler Live! date.
“There’s something about seeing theatre and circus live and being part of that; there’s something visceral,” Nunns says. “You took the time to go to the theatre. You’re interested in being there, receptive to new information and supporting the arts. With COVID, a lot of what got us through was the arts: movies, films, and watching different entertainment on our screens. That speaks to the power of arts and culture. I’m happy Whistler is bringing us out to share our voice.”