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Cirque Italia is putting a new spin on mermaid Ariel by having an aerial mermaid swinging high above the briny in the troupe’s new pirate-themed adventure.
The traveling Water Circus Silver Show is coming to Coralville from Oct. 13 to 16, making a splash under a big top set up in the Coral Ridge Mall parking lot.
Landlubbers in the audience won’t get wet, but the performers will, mermaid aerialist and unit manager Morgaine Rosenthal said during a Zoom interview from a recent tour stop in St. Cloud, Minn.
The new stage is greener than before, using just 200 gallons of water to shoot up fountains and pour down rain — instead of the previous 35,000-gallon setup.
“We’re very proud of that,” Rosenthal said, calling the design “super innovative” and “helping the planet,” without sacrificing the spectacle.
“We have this same magical effect of the rain and the fountains, and this beautiful atmosphere with this eco-friendly stage,” she said. “Actually, the whole show now just takes on this whole different feeling from before — differences with our stage and with our pirate ship. It's very exciting.”
The family-friendly show will take viewers on a swashbuckling adventure when the ringmaster, Clown Rafinha, finds a treasure map stuffed inside a bottle, and sets out to find the buried treasure.
Along the way, he’ll encounter storms, angelic aerialists, pirate fights, and buccaneers doing everything from balancing upside down on rum barrels to juggling knives to wielding a crossbow to hopping onto the Wheel of Death.
What: Cirque Italia’s Water Circus Silver Show
Where: Under the big top in the Coral Ridge Mall parking lot, 1451 Coral Ridge Ave., Coralville
When: Oct. 13 to 16; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13 and 14; 1:30, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15; 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Oct. 16; masks strongly recommended
Tickets: $10 to $50, silver.cirqueitalia.com/events/694_Water-Circus-I-Silver-Unit-Coralville-IA
“It’s just a lot of fun,” said Rosenthal, who also joins her boyfriend, Dee Fernandez, in a roller skating act. Like all 16 performers in the European style circus, Fernandez wears many hats onstage and behind the scenes, from being a pirate to the company’s props master.
“We all stay very busy,” Rosenthal said. “And that's something else at Cirque Italia that’s so unique. … When you come to the show, maybe someone who sold you your ticket is also selling popcorn, or someone who sold you your popcorn is gonna then be on stage. We all work in so many different ways to put this show together and make it the best show possible.”
Beyond her mermaid and pirating adventures onstage, Rosenthal shoulders a barrel of responsibilities as unit manager.
"I handle things like our inspections, and I make sure that everything is running smoothly from the time that we arrive in a location until the time that we leave,“ she said, ”making sure that everything is (satisfactory) between the properties and the cities and us and customers — and making sure that everyone is happy.“
In the beginning
Owner Manuel Rebecchi, who comes from a long line of Italian circus performers, created Cirque Italia in 2012. Its headquarters and winter quarters are in Sarasota, Fla. The company added a second traveling water circus in 2017, followed by a paranormal circus in 2017 and a prison-themed show in 2021.
Current tours are taking two water circus and two paranormal shows on the road, as well as a new two “Nitro Extreme” production using automobile and motorcycle stunts. Right now, all tours traverse the United States, but Rosenthal noted, “We are, as a company, looking to expand that.”
“When Manuel Rebecchi came to the United States, he wanted to bring something different to the American circus scene and to the American public,” Rosenthal said. “And so he decided to leave the elephants and the tigers in the jungle and came up with the idea of a water circus.”
According to britannica.com, the roots of circus date back to ancient Rome and the contests and blood sports of the Circus Maximus. That arena, which operated for a thousand years, now lies in ruins, but its traditions of using trained animals and a preshow parade have remained.
Acrobatics and juggling can be traced to ancient Egypt and China.
The artistry has continued to evolve, through traveling troupes and individuals performing for royalty and fairs during the Middle Ages. Trick rider Philip Astley is credited for creating the modern circus and circus rings in England in 1768, adding a clown, musicians and other performers in 1770.
Through its many forms and faces, it’s important to keep circus alive, Rosenthal said.
“It's a really interesting art form and industry, especially right now in the United States, just because circus is changing so much,” she said. “You have so many different avenues for circus arts and artists. I think that it’s important to keep the traditions of circus, while also embracing some of the changes that are coming along with that.
“Lots of people have very different feelings about animals in circus versus not. Our company is animal free, and that's something that was very important to the owner, Manuel Rebecchi, and to be able to focus on the abilities of the human body rather than elephants and tigers.”
On the road
Today, Cirque Italia’s wandering artists come from all over the world — including Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Russia and Ukraine — ranging in age from early 20s to 40s, and bringing a variety of skills to the stage.
Rosenthal is American, but her boyfriend from Venezuela is bilingual, so he acts as her personal interpreter. But she noted that company members spend so much time together, traveling 11 1/2 months out of the year, they can leap over the language barriers.
“We've all worked together for so long that we’ve become like a little family,” she said. “And so even if we don’t speak the same language, per se, we have our own ways of communicating, just from knowing each other and working together.”
Their unit totals 60 people. Except for the 16 performers, the rest work behind the scene. They travel by road, with an entourage that includes five semis, six flatbeds, a production truck and some trailers, as well as RVs for the artists.
Setup generally takes 11 or 12 hours. In a typical week, unit arrives in a city on Monday. The troupe spends about four hours beginning the setup, then finishes it Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday they take a day off to practice and see the sites in their host city.
They also need some time to acclimate to the space.
“(Recently), we were on a property that had a very severe incline,” Rosenthal said. “And so that definitely makes things interesting when you're being thrown around on roller skates on top of the table. But there's always something — everything from the property itself, to the weather. There's definitely challenges that come with performing in a tent, but we absolutely love it.”
They typically perform one show on Thursday and Friday, three shows on Saturday and two or three on Sunday. They will follow that schedule in Coralville, but just do two shows on Sunday, Oct. 16. After the final performance, tear down will take about 10 hours.
“It's a pretty big production,” said Rosenthal, who grew up in Atlanta, Ga., and fell in love with circus arts recreationally in her youth.
“One day I would go to soccer practice, the next day, I would go to circus class. And then from there, I realized that circus was my passion,” she said. “So I went to circus school in California, and then I started performing professionally doing theater shows, casinos, theme parks, and then I got in touch with Cirque Italia, and here I am.”
Now in her 30s, she’s been with the troupe for eight years, and had to learn very quickly how to be part of that world.
“I didn't know what I was getting into,” she said. “I had never been on tour, but I knew that I wanted to perform in a big top, in a tent. … I didn't know anything about trucks and trailers. I just showed up and was like, ‘OK guys, I'm here.’
“And so there was definitely an adjustment — everything from living in a bunk house, to learning … about getting a truck, learning how to hook up a trailer. Learning how to do your own rigging is something that's interesting. …
“There were definitely a lot of things that I had no idea about, but as it goes in the circus, you learn as you go.”
It’s all part of creating an experience that will stay with viewers long after they leave the big top.
“Circus is such a unique art form,” she said. “I think that it's important for people to realize that it's not just from the time they walk into the tent until the time they leave, or the time they walk into the performance space until the time they leave.
“I think that it's interesting for the public to realize all of the things that go into making this magical two hours for them, because yes, it's a lot of work, it's a lot of blood, sweat and tears, if you will. But it’s also a lot of love and passion. All of my staff choose to be here because they love it,” she said.
“And I think that is something that’s really unique about the circus industry as a whole, because if you didn't love it, you wouldn't do it. And so when we come to each town, we really put our hearts out there.”
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