BRATTLEBORO—In the grand tradition of circus grandstanding — think of Barnum & Bailey calling itself “The Greatest Show on Earth” — the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) promises that its Professional Track Training Program show will be “like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”
This time, however, such hyperbole just might be right on the money.
“From Out of the Ordinary” features the graduation performance by advanced students. It’s a full theatrical production in a full-sized theater featuring trapeze, slack rope, juggling, partner acrobatics, clowning, and more.
For the first time, the graduate show will not take place at NECCA’s studio at the Cotton Mill — where it has always sold out in the past — but rather in the Greenhoe Theater at Landmark College in Putney on two successive weekends this month: May 12 and 13, and May 18 and 19.
Serenity Smith Forchion, one of founders of NECCA, said the change of venue brings greater opportunity to showcase the talents of the performers, and to welcome larger audiences.
“We are taking a bit of chance on a bigger theater. With a larger space, we have more seats to fill,” she said.
But she said she is convinced the change will prove worth the gamble.
“Here, we have more room, superb lighting, and all the things only a real theater can offer,” she said.
“‘From Out of the Ordinary’ is going to be a real circus show, quite unlike any we have given in the past.”
To be precise, the final performances will be divided into two shows at Greenhoe Theater. With 17 graduates strutting their stuff, the organizers decided to split what would be a very long evening into Performances A and B.
“All graduates at NECCA develop a major and minor act, which they produce as products on the marketplace looking for a job,” said Smith Forchion.
“We videotape these acts to be used as calling cards to show agents and prospective employers.”
Each performer’s major act is included in both shows, while the minor acts will vary in shows A and B.
“So if you want to see everything, you should attend both,” said Smith Forchion.
NECCA was founded by Elsie Smith and Smith Forchion, identical twins who specialize in aerial acrobatics. Their performing backgrounds include a four-year tour on Cirque du Soleil’s “Saltimbanco,” as well as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. As performers, they present a duo trapeze and duo fabric act, as well as various solos on aerial apparatus.
Smith Forchion also performs a partner hand-balancing act with her husband, Bill Forchion, who is also an instructor at the school. In 2003, the sisters began Nimble Arts, a Vermont based trapeze and circus school that transitioned into the New England Center for Circus Arts in 2007.
NECCA is one of very few circus arts schools in the country. “There aren’t many places like us,” said Smith Forchion.
“There is one in San Francisco, but that is having financial difficulties.... And there is the Circus Warehouse in New York City, but they are very different from us.”
The sisters decided to start their school after years of performing. Smith Forchion said they each thought it was “time to settle down and raise a family.”
Their father bought a farm in Guilford in 1988 and they came to know the area.
NECCA has been at the forefront of what has become known as “new circus,” where a story or a theme is conveyed through traditional circus skills. Animals are rarely used, and a more character-driven approach focuses more attention on story development and the use of lighting design, original music, and costume design to convey content.
Students from across the country
“Currently we have students from all over America,” Smith Forchion said, “but in the past we have also had students from Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, and elsewhere. Our oldest student was in her eighties.”
The school has more than a thousand graduates working all over the world: at the Korean World’s Fair, Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros., and at an Indiana casino.
“We offer a lot of different kinds of training here,” Smith Forchion continued. “While we give plenty of classes, camps, and workshops, some of our training is more formal and extensive.”
The Professional Track Training is for committed students who want to focus on their core strength and technique and also develop a variety of skills. Training focuses on stretching, tumbling, hand balancing, partner acrobatics, trapeze, and fabric, plus lyra, duo trapeze, mini tramp, tight wire, juggling, and pole.
Thom Wall, one of this year’s graduates, will be performing his hoop diver act at “From Out of the Ordinary.”
He said that NECCA wants to produce what it calls circus generalists. “Instead of being pigeonholed because you can only do just one act, the school encourages its students to be versatile,” he said.
“So, in the first semester, we are required to take a lot of different kinds of courses like trapeze and pole, many that may be new to us. They want everyone to try everything.”
Wall, who originally comes from St. Louis but had been living all over — including in his car — before he decided to move to Brattleboro and polish his circus skills, praised the NECCA experience.
“It’s a fantastic, loving bunch of people here,” he said. “There is a correlation to how much work you put into the school to what you will get out of it.”