She is high off the ground, far higher than is comfortable for most people, as she begins to let go. Her hands are chalked to soak up any perspiration and trace of wetness. Those hands have to be dry. Both sets of hands in fact, must be very very strong and sure of grip and confident for this transfer to work. There is a leap of faith, to willingly release her safe and iron tight grip on the bar, and to trust that her partner's hands and forearms will lock onto hers and she will be safe swinging high above the crowd, the cheering crowd in the circus tent. Even with the best planning and preparation, the best physical readiness, there is room for error. And any error at that height would be a major error. In the world of a trapeze artist there's always room for doubt.
What must it be like for Blaze Birge in the moment, in the millisecond before she lets go? What kind of exhilaration? How much thrill is it possible for a person to experience? We can only imagine. But it is possible, indeed likely that the very things that enable her to let go the bar in that moment are precisely the qualities that she brings to lead Flynn Creek Circus into the long final stretch run of the 2021 season: Fierce determination, indomitable courage, fantastic physical conditioning, and a ton of muscle memory.
As the 16 members of the FCC begin the Big Top "tent-build" in Gualala this week, to build their performance hall for the six shows they will present between Friday night and Monday afternoon, each of them must call upon their last reserves of energy, now considerably expended by two grueling months on the road. This year, Flynn Creek ventured far beyond its native Northern California habitat, bringing the magic all the way to Colorado. They come to Gualala direct from Snowmass Village CO.
Ms. Birge is considerably occupied these days, along with her partner, David Jones with every part of the mechanism that is Flynn Creek Circus on tour. And so time is tight to talk to reporters. But we were able to speak with two members of the cast, catching up on a travel day between Avon and Snowmass.
Kellin Hentoff-Killian is a Juggler. That is his day job, along with huffing and puffing shoulder to shoulder with the other 15 cast members that build the Big Tent in a new spot every week, and then perform six or seven shows on the weekend. So he is, like all the other FCC cast - in very good shape. Kellin is 24 years old and comes from a circus family. Both his parents are Circus folk, so he is 2nd generation. To hear Kellin tell it, that is a mere blink of an eye in a world where some performers have Circus pedigrees that extend 6 to 7 generations back. “I know people whose family have been in circus more than a century,” he says.
Kellin performed professionally for the first time at age 4, training with Circus Harmony in his native St. Louis. At 17 he moved to Montreal to attend the renowned Ecole National de Cirque, where he graduated in 2018 along with about 100 of his fellow students.
Nicole Lamb came to the circus life a little differently. 36 years old, she has 7 years of circus experience behind her, but began her life in show business began as a stand up comic in college. That is a tough proving ground, and turned out to be a good preparation for Flynn Creek, which is famous for weaving a dramatic and humorous narrative into the shows. A the “MC” of the show, Nicole is the one who helps transition the knife throwers and jugglers, the contortionists and the sword swallowers – all the separate acts into one seamless whole. Nicole said that she was attracted to Flynn Creek for the innovative approach to circus that still defines the troupe - “pushing traditions to the edge”. Lamb said it is “hugely empowering to have a woman in charge of the Circus. And Blaze is a Bad Ass”.
* * *
The Flynn Creek Circus performs in Gualala Sept. 3-6.