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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: April 8, 2015

Circus Conservatory’s first fully conceived stage show, “The Garden of Circus Delights,” this weekend

Written by: Bob Keyes
Performers with the Circus Conservatory of America rehearse for "The Garden of Circus Delights," being staged Friday through Sunday at the conservatory's home on Thompson's Point in Portland.  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Performers with the Circus Conservatory of America rehearse for “The Garden of Circus Delights,” being staged Friday through Sunday at the conservatory’s home on Thompson’s Point in Portland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


Until now, the Circus Conservatory of America has given us glimpses.

Beginning this weekend, we get the full monty.

“The Garden of Circus Delights,” on stage Friday through Sunday at the conservatory’s home at Thompson’s Point in Portland, represents the conservatory’s first fully conceived stage show with characters, emotion and a storyline. Its performances until now have been cabaret-style appearances, with artists presenting unrelated acts in succession. This one tells a story about man’s connections with the natural and cosmos worlds and gives audiences an idea of the promise of contemporary circus, said Peter Nielsen, president of the Circus Conservatory.

It will feature a cast of eight professional circus artists and up to 20 local students who are training at the Circus Conservatory. They will perform with sound and lights on a set developed specifically for this show.

“This is our first big public performance, and we’re very excited,” Nielsen said.

“The Garden of Circus Delights” is based on the intoxicating Hieronymus Bosch painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” Bosch, who made the painting more than 500 years ago, depicts a paradise lost of naked men and women, abundant fruit and temptation at every turn.

The circus artists will use the painting as inspiration. “It sets a tone,” Nielsen said, “and allows us to have a conversation about where the circus fits into humanity and how we interpret that. How do we look at a painting and make a circus out of it?”

Friday’s performance is a fundraiser for the conservatory, with $100 tickets that includes food and drink, pre-show entertainment, a reception with the artists and opportunities for what Nielsen calls “interactive moments” during the show. The Saturday and Sunday performances cost $25, with seating for 250 people or more.

The highlight will be the eight professional circus artists, including three who have performed with Cirque du Soleil: Tanya Burka, Spencer Novich and Cory Tabino. The opportunity for Maine kids to perform with artists who have reached the top echelon of the circus arts is compelling, Nielsen said. “The Garden of Circus Delights” will demonstrate a number of skills, including aerials, hand-balancing, contortion and physical theater.

Novich, an actor and clown, graduated from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where he studied at the Experimental Theater Wing. After graduating, he was cast in the lead in Cirque du Soleil’s “KA,” and has performed around the world. For his most recent project, Novich created an original character and comic material for Spiegelworld’s production of “Vegas Nocturne” at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Novich plays the protagonist in the story on stage in Portland this weekend and is introduced as a character who is not a fully formed human and still in search of his personal identity.

Burka is an aerialist who holds a bachelor’s degree from MIT. She also graduated from Montreal’s National Circus School. Tabino also graduated from the Montreal academy and has performed around the world for 20 years, specializing in hand-balancing and the Chinese pole.

To be able to attract that level of talent to Portland says much about the ambition of this particular show, as well as the Circus Conservatory, Nielsen said.

The piece includes music, lights and a full complement of choreography.

This is the kind of performance that people can expect from the conservatory, Nielsen said. The goal of the of Circus Conservatory is to train and produce professional circus artists and teach high-level circus arts. There’s no better way to do that than develop original showcase opportunities, Nielsen said.

“The Garden of Circus Delights”

WHERE: Circus Conservatory of America, 4A Thompson’s Point Road, Portland
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $100 for Friday; $25 for Saturday and Sunday

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