If you’ve been thinking of running away from your classes to join the circus, you may be surprised to learn that there’s an opportunity to do so just minutes from campus.
On Fourth St. and Elko Ave., the University of Nevada, Reno alumni-run studio, Acro Enso, offers circus training out of a retrofitted brownstone. The building comes equipped with room to dangle silks or hoops off of old scaffolding and ample floor space for budding back-handsprings or handstands. It gets cold in the fall and winter months, but it’s hard to stay chilly in a rigorous tumbling lesson with Keisha Thrift, an Acro Enso coach, co-owner and UNR biochemistry graduate — or a Cyr wheel lesson with Cyrus Luciano, an Acro Enso coach, co-owner and UNR mathematics graduate.
This Nov. 18, however, the cavernous acrobatics studio was balmy even for idle visitors, who gathered to sit on repurposed mats and precious few actual chairs. The students and coaches they had come to see — seasoned professionals and beginners, adults and elementary schoolers — had been preparing for weeks. Now it was time to put on a show.
Thrift, dressed for the occasion in a top hat and cape, introduced the facility’s first showcase since the start of the pandemic. Jerod McCurry, a porter at the studio, contributed comedic interludes throughout.
Aerial silks, a discipline in which movement artists climb, pose and invert on hanging pieces of fabric, opened the showcase, with a troupe of young performers the first to take the makeshift stage. They were followed by dramatic adult performers on silks and hammock — an apparatus similar to silk, only in a closed loop.
Ground acrobatics, meanwhile, brought another young team, followed by a duo of UNR students: Molly Allen, a mechanical engineering senior who coaches the silks troupe that opened the performance, and Kennedy Maxfield, an incoming freshman who teaches a youth and family class for Level 1 silks as well as a pre-competition team. Both also teach private lessons.
“When I was little, I told my mom I wanted to be in the circus, and she thought that was a joke — but it turned out not to be a joke,” Maxfield, who’s been doing aerial silks for over seven years, said.
Allen, who’s been doing silks for five years, somewhat sheepishly admitted that she’d been hooked by the 2018 movie musical, “The Greatest Showman.”
“I saw Zendaya on that trapeze and I was like, ‘I need to be her,’” Allen said.
Following the closure of the studio where she began training, Allen became a coach at Acro Enso. For the past year, she and Maxfield have also been training together in ground acrobatics. The showcase on Nov. 18 was their partner acrobatics debut.
“We wanted it to be fun and not be crazy dramatic, so we just chose the Aladdin soundtrack,” Maxfield said.
Maxfield also juggled from atop Allen’s shoulders during the performance.
“Coming from my background [in silks], it was always very individual,” Allen said. “Now, it’s like, I’m responsible for making sure that Kennedy is safe and stable and secure. And that’s difficult and also rewarding because someone is relying on me. That performance isn’t just my success, it’s hers, too.”
Before a brief intermission, audience members were asked to turn their seats to the other side of the studio. From this angle, the makeshift stage was hard ground instead of padded practice space — perfect for Acro Enso’s other specialty, the Cyr wheel.
In Cyr wheel, performers interact with, spin and do tricks in a metal wheel wrapped with PVC. Luciano and Thrift founded Acro Enso in part because there was no other place to study Cyr wheel in town at the time.
Now, four years later, several students and visiting artists, who were there as part of the studio’s Biggest Little Cyr Festival, contributed a piece to the second half of the showcase. They ranged widely from somber to positively cheeky.
To finish the lineup, an ensemble of dancers contributed an energized hip-hop piece, a nod to the studio’s forays into dance as a complement to circus.
At their most precise, the night’s performers made their work look easy. But as UNR’s resident circus artists attest, it very much isn’t.
“I feel like a lot of people focus on the showmanship of circus,” Molly Allen said, “and yes, we’re putting on a show, but it’s also athleticism. There’s a lot of skill and strength involved.”
Even in something as delicate-seeming as silks, she added, there’s a lot to get used to.
“We call them silks kisses when we get, like, bruises from the silks. Especially aerial troupe: they’re getting into high level things that do hurt, there’s just no way around it. Silks is beautiful and fun, and it’s also a little unforgiving sometimes,” Allen said.
But in circus, not all pain is equal, as Kennedy Maxfield explained.
“If you break your arm and you feel your bones snap, that’s bad pain! As long as there’s no dislocating or straining and things are moving the way they’re supposed to, that’s good pain,” Maxfield said.
Generally, they both pointed out, we’re taught to shy away from all kinds of pain — but there’s no climbing six feet into the air without accepting the discomfort. Or, as Allen appreciates in plenty of her young students, accepting the possibility of failure.
“At this point in my life, I have a deathly fear of failure, but they don’t have that attitude at all,” Allen said. “And they’re just so ambitious and enthusiastic, and I think teaching them and seeing that energy and getting to participate in it brings me back to that place. I can just try it, because if these kids can do it and whip things out like this, I can too.”
Adults are also more than welcome to try their hand at adopting that same attitude in circus at Acro Enso. In fact, it’s encouraged.
“Do it, come, try it! Everyone should try it, that’s what I think,” Maxfield said. “I feel like everyone is capable of more than they think, and a lot of people are just too scared to try.”
Peregrine Hart can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram @pintofperegrine. She started her circus journey on the aerial hoop.