Anyone who has ever dreamed of joining the circus won’t have to go too far if they live in Halifax.

The Halifax Circus has lived in the hardwood floor gymnasium of St. Matthew’s United Church on Barrington St. since 2005, inviting the public to learn aerial silks, juggling, flame-throwing, and theatrics.

The year-round, three-ring circus has an all-ages school and a performance troupe. There’s also a “Circus Circle”, which is an outreach program for communities including the Mi’kmaq, as well as people with disabilities. Halifax Circus also offers training for children from the IWK Health Centre.

“You don’t have to be a professional athlete,” said Guinevere Last, who has been a director and performer with the Halifax Circus since 2016. “You don’t have to be someone who was involved in the arts before, to have circus be a thing that you can use to express yourself.”

Turas Mara: A Journey by Sea
caption Halifax Circus plans to resume its run of “Turas Mara: A Journey by Sea”, directed Guinevere Last (pictured here).
Halifax Circus

Last is a veteran actor and circus performer who has directed award-winning shows but she tells The Signal that teaching novices is also a thrill.

“Being able to see those people come out of their shell … through circus is one of the huge highlights of being a coach,” said Last, who set aside her PhD studies to run away to the circus.

A confidence builder

The Signal visited a Halifax Circus rehearsal in November where eight people with varying skill levels practiced physical movements and improv comedy. Their next production will be Turas Mara: A Journey by Sea, scheduled for release in 2023.

One of the cast members is Tamara Smith, 44, from Halifax, who works in human resources by day and moonlights as a circus arts student.

“I heard about Halifax Circus through a friend who was coming here … and that was partway through the pandemic,” said Smith. She describes herself as a private person who took an aerial skills class for personal development and is now working on stage presence and acrobatics.

“It’s been great for building confidence or finding a way to stay fit,” added Smith, who struggled to do a cartwheel but did not give up trying.

“You don’t have to be a professional athlete. You don’t have to be someone who was involved in the arts before, to have circus be a thing that you can use express yourself.”Guinevere Last, director and performer, Halifax Circus

Smith and other performers kneeled on large mats while a partner stood on their thighs. The goal was to counterbalance one person’s weight with another’s, which is a foundation of acrobatics. Aerobatics specialist Ethan Avila led the session.

“We want to build strength and confidence within our core group of members,” said Avila. “It builds trust amongst everyone.”

Career change

Halifax Circus 4
caption Aerobatics specialist Ethan Avila (R) leads sessions in the gymnasium of St. Matthew’s United Church.
Crystal Greene

Avila’s introduction to circus arts is similar to that of his colleague Last. He had been in Halifax studying physics at the PhD level when he says he was bitten by the circus bug on a visit back to his native Mexico City. Upon his return to Nova Scotia, he dropped out of school to focus on circus full-time.

“It has been very rewarding, and I love teaching, performing,” explained Avila, who assists with the Circus Circle program.

Pandemic pause

The upcoming production Turas Mara: A Journey by Sea is the continuation of a show run that was interrupted by the pandemic. Director Guinevere Last describes the protagonist as a town misfit who hops on a ship, which gets caught in a storm, and unexpectedly encounters an undersea world.

Last has assembled a new cast for the 2023 production that will be streamed online, reaching audiences unable to access the show in person. She said preparations will ramp up closer to the May 2023 production window, beginning with weekly eight-hour rehearsals.

It’s tough going for rookies like Tamara Smith, but she said that she’s determined to make her circus debut.

“I’m grateful that Halifax Circus exists as a welcoming and really inclusive place for people to try something new.”

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About the author

Crystal Greene

Crystal Greene (she/her) is originally from Winnipeg, where she lived most of her life. She now lives in Kjipuktuk/Halifax with her toddler....

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