Cirque Éloize is bringing its newest production, “Saloon: A Musical Acrobatic Adventure” to Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater for a special two-day/three-show run. The production opens on Friday night, January 13, at 8 p.m., then on Saturday, January 14, you can see this dazzling wild west spectacle at 2 p.m. or 8 p.m.
“Saloon” is a tale that revolves around the beguiling charms of the establishment’s bewitching belle. The story is set against a kinetic world filled with impressive feats of strength and agility. The show features 11 multitalented artists who have all mastered a number of disciplines for their respective roles. Shena Tschofen whirls about inside a 33 pound steel hoop that is approximately five and a half feet in diameter. She also performs aerial chandelier with her partner Justine Méthé Crozat, does tricks with a lasso, sings, and plays the violin.
“I started doing gymnastics when I was really young,” Shena informed. “Then, I danced for a little bit. I started doing circus when I was six — I’m from Minneapolis and there are three circus schools there were you can learn circus recreationally. I did all sorts of different disciplines like silks and hoop and acrobatic tumbling and flying trapeze and wheel. I basically got to try a little bit of everything, which was really lucky because I already had an idea of what existed before I had to choose one thing. From there, I went to an arts high school for two years for dance. Then, I went to a year of university as a dance major. After that, I got accepted to the National Circus School in Montreal. My entire life, I’ve always been moving and dancing and spinning.”
There is a fluidity and a grace to Shena’s movements. She twirls with a mesmerizing ease that comes from countless hours of practice.
“I was at school for three years and I practiced wheel at least 10 hours every week,” the artist told Entertaining Options. “That was in addition to all of the other things that I had to learn: floor acrobatics, juggling, handstands, dance, and theater. We had classes from 8:30 in the morning till 4:30 in the afternoon and two hours of every day was devoted to my specialty, which was wheel.
Shena’s incredible accomplishments on the wheel and in other disciplines are a result of her remarkable personality. If there was ever something she couldn’t do, she would have a very specific reaction.
“I would get annoyed!” she laughed. “But that’s just the first part, it’s a two-step process. You can get annoyed, but if you get annoyed and you give up, that’s not going to get you anywhere. You need to get annoyed and figure out how to fix it, that’s what really gets you somewhere.”
That steadfast persistence is what has made Shena an innovator in her chosen discipline. After mastering all the core essentials, there was still something inside her that was driving her to do more. Because she is skilled in so many different areas, Shena began integrating techniques and tricks from her different disciplines to create things that have never been seen before.
“That’s my goal,” she stated. “It’s really important to create my own style and my own voice in this discipline because there are so many other people who do it. If you don’t do something different, then what’s the point? You’re just copying and repeating, you’re not creating anything new, you’re not challenging yourself.”
However, there are risks involved in constantly pushing yourself to excel. For instance, Gemma Kirby, one of the most charismatic and vivacious individuals ever to be shot from a cannon — she was even a guest on “Late Night with David Letterman” — recently suffered a career-ending injury. [Gemma just opened Dress Her Heart, a company that turns gently used, pre-owned clothing into vital resources for women and girls in her community.]
“You have to be really good friends with momentum,” Shena noted. “There’s really no way to spot someone who is in the wheel, either you do it or you don’t. You have to learn how to fall. Rule number one: Never let go of the wheel because it will come back and hit you on the head.” [Remember, Shena’s wheel is a 33 pound piece of steel rolling about with great momentum.]
That being said, the wheel is less risky than some of the other disciplines such as the teeter board where if you’re even just the tiniest bit off, in timing or movement, it can lead to a fall from a great height. Shena’s concerns, besides being slammed in the head, are focused mostly on crushed fingers.
“Yes, that happens,” Shena acknowledged, “but it’s really not as common as you might think. When you go upside down in the wheel, you open your hands because what keeps you in the wheel is the force of you pushing against the wheel, not grabbing onto it. So you don’t pinch your fingers as often as you might think. However, I am currently in the process of re-growing a toenail that I lost about six months ago. It was an accident that happened when I was trying something new and the wheel fell on my toe. That’s an example of momentum not being happy with me,” she laughed.
But as bold and daring as Shena is in her many disciplines, she doesn’t take risks outside of work.
“Sometimes, we’ll be out somewhere and someone will say, ‘Let’s do a flip off of this,’ and I’m usually the one who says, ‘No, that sounds like a terrible idea. I’ll bash my head on the cement.’ I’m used to doing this in a really safe environment with mats and coaches and spotters. I consider this a precious thing. I am and I’ve always been very active, I like to hike and I like to ski, but I won’t do anything to risk my career.”
To balance out her life of movement and momentum, in her down time, Shena enjoys capturing moments of stillness. She’s a photographer. Interestingly, she see’s a connection between taking pictures and performing.
“For me, photography is about setting the stage for a story. It’s the same as putting something on stage for a performance because you have to set everything up and put it in the order that you want it to be in so you can tell your story. That’s what I do in my photography.”
Speaking of stories, with “Saloon,” Cirque Éloize has created an astounding world where the circus and theater have merged. The exhilarating rush of live music coupled with remarkable acrobatic feats serves as a vibrant backdrop to the action-packed tale of a volatile love triangle. The dates and times at Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater are as follows:
Friday, January 13: 8 p.m.
Saturday, January 14: 2 p.m.
Saturday, January 14: 8 p.m.
Cirque Éloize: website • Facebook • Instagram • Twitter
Shena Tschofen: website • Facebook • Flickr