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Author: Pranathi Durgempudi

Cirque Mechanics honors iconic one-ring circus through modern, mechanized performance

On Friday, Jan. 17, Cirque Mechanics will bring the iconic lore of the one-ring circus to Macky Auditorium. Its latest theatrical invention, called “42FT – A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels,” introduces audiences to the thrilling and death-defying world of modernized circus acts.

Cirque’s creative director and company founder Chris Lashua was first discovered by Cirque du Soleil in 1992. Performing on a BMX bike and engineering his own German Wheel act, Lashua gained an intimate knowledge of circus shows and their gadgetry. Armed with the knowledge of how to build machines to interact with acrobats, dancers, jugglers and contortionists, he then founded the widely acclaimed Cirque Mechanics company.

While circus acts themselves boast a rich history, Lashua acknowledges the rough patch that they’ve encountered in recent years.

“Two years ago, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, one of the largest and most well-known circuses in America, closed its doors. The same year, the Big Apple Circus went out of business (they are now back under new ownership),” Lashua says.

“While many attribute the closing of Ringling Bros. to the efforts of animal rights activists, there are many more reasons for its demise. Ticket sales had been declining for years, and with the advent of modern circus companies like Cirque Du Soleil, Ringling struggled to remain relevant. Now more than ever, it is critical that live entertainment engage audiences directly.”

The answer lay in mechanization. “We are looking at ways to perform old circus acts in new ways,” he says. “We try to find ways to use the movement of circus to power our devices or ways for our devices to complement and showcase our circus acts.”

Lashua and his team have successfully found a way to pay tribute to the classic art form with their evolved, contemporary circus company.

Cirque Mechanics will pay homage to the iconic one-ring circus in this show. With a diameter of 42 feet, the circus ring takes on the form of a rotating platform with an overhead arch supporting the rigging and big top. “Englishman Philip Astley discovered that horses galloping inside this ring provide the ideal platform for acrobatic feats. These equestrian acrobatics, along with clowns and flyers, are a large part of what we’ve all come to know as the circus,” Lashua explains.

The 250th anniversary of Astley’s circus discovery inspired Cirque Mechanics to showcase the the 42-foot circus ring in its own modern fashion. “Our mechanical circus advances the status quo in that we celebrate the relationship between the acrobatic and mechanical worlds. My favorite is a juggling act that is performed atop our mechanical horse as it gallops around the ring, which is the perfect way for us to pay tribute to the animal act that is at the center of what we know as the circus,” Lashua says.

What other feats can audiences expect to see at the show? The company will tip a cap to classic circus acts with a bit of a modern twist.

“Cirque Mechanics has assembled a veritable menagerie of circus acts worthy of the ring.” Lashua says. “We also have a great high flying acrobatic ‘Russian Swing,’ which launches the acrobats 20 feet in the air, and a Mongolian strongman who juggles a telephone pole as if it were a broomstick.”

The show “A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels” will feature 12 onstage artists. “While most are American, we do have one artist from a traditional Russian circus family and two male circus artists from Mongolia,” he says.

In addition to breathtaking triumphs of human and mechanical collaboration, this show will center around a classic underdog narrative featuring a character named Justin. “It follows the story of a down-and-out roustabout filled with wanderlust and enamored with the circus, willing to persevere in order to reach his dream of performing under the big top,” Lashua details.

“In ‘42 Ft,’ Cirque Mechanics dares us to let our imagination run away and jump inside this remarkable ring full of the lore, the beauty, the grit and the thrill of the circus.”

Cirque Mechanics’ “42FT – A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels” takes place on Jan. 17 in Macky Auditorium. Tickets start at $20.