The first annual San Diego Circus Festival, hosted by San Diego Circus Center and produced by Jean-Luc Martin, was a three day event in San Diego, CA illuminated by different levels of circus artistry in aerial, floor, jeu, and dance. Acts in those categories were submitted through the Festival website, selected, and divided up into three evening productions : Professional, Emerging, and Youth. Preceding each production of talent was a Cirque-Off where contestants competed against each other through improvisation to live taiko drums.
By exposing nationwide, hand-selected talent to the community, San Diego Circus Festival became a pathway for youth and emerging artists to excel as well as an avenue for established professionals to perform. The Festival gave talent an opportunity to present their work while also providing education through workshops held by professionals in the industry. As executive director, I took on the role of branding, concept collaboration, execution, talent, content creation, project management, scheduling, and communication.
Country and City of Festival: San Diego, CA, USA
Date of Festival: August 23rd – 25th 2019
Workshops – Slapstick Clowning by Dan Griffiths, Aerial Rope by Christian Sanchez, Chinese Pole by Marco Ingaramo, Hammock by Terry Beeman, Silks by Terry Beeman, Strength Training for Circus by Julia Ruth, & Cyr Wheel by Julia Ruth.
Improvisation Performances – Four applicants participated in a taiko drum “Cirque-Off” in Dance, Rope, Cyr Wheel, and Jeu. The participants executed an improvisation in their discipline for about 3 minutes while La Jolla Taiko performed live. We started with four performers and ended with one winner on Sunday August 25th. The audience dictated the outcome.
Category Performances – Each evening of the festival a high caliber production was provided for the local community to experience the magic of circus by artists from all over the United States. The evenings were split up into 3 categories : Professional Artists, Emerging Artists, and Youth Artists.
Number of participants: About 30 selected performers in the Professional, Emerging, Youth, and “Cirque – Off” categories
Number of Performances: Six performances: Three live taiko drum Cirque – Offs and three categorical productions representing professional talent, emerging talent, and youth talent.
Applications for SDCF 2020: Our application dates have not been released yet, but artists seeking to perform or host workshops at SDCF 2020 should submit their resume, descriptions of workshops, and/or a video of their act to [email protected]
In collaboration with La Jolla Taiko, San Diego Circus Festival paired circus performance with live taiko drumming. Taiko drumming is a combination of percussion and martial arts mixed with eminence, intricate rhythm and synchronous movement, which results in a breathtaking experience. The experiential live improvisation was not only a sight to see, but gave artists a platform to grow in their improvisation capabilities. At the beginning of each night, after the master of ceremonies introduced the show, the group of taiko drummers took their stance in preparation for the powerful composition that was about to take place. When the drumming started, the performer(s) began to move in synchronicity or contrast to what the musicality was telling them, keeping the audience engaged. Julia Ruth on Cyr wheel unexpectedly executed several jumps that lined up perfectly with impactful drum sounds. Alexis Selleck, who represented Jeu, utilized props to explore comedic persona. Some performers told a story, while others used the entire stage to connect with the audience, their apparatus, and the music. Regardless of how each performer interpreted their stage presence, every improvisation delivery was an expression of zeal for their art form.
Meet the Executive Producer / Creator : Jean – Luc Martin
Circus Performer, Film/Event Producer, Entrepreneur. Martin has always been an adventurer; pushing the limits, rock climbing and kayaking as a teenager, traveling North America, and completing multiple day routes on El Capitan. Through performing with Pickle Family Circus, training at École Nationale de Cirque, and then performing several tours with Cirque du Soleil, Martin gained extensive experience in teeterboard, hand to hand, handstands, banquine, and Russian bar. Thereafter, Martin turned to Hollywood, where he produced feature films and live broadcast events. In the past decade, his passion for circus education and entrepreneurship aligned to lead him to his tent pole achievement: San Diego Circus Center, where he is founder and program director.
The Connection Between Our Master Youth Intensive, AYCOfest, & SDCF
When Martin accepted hosting the 2019 AYCO Festival at The San Diego Circus Center, he planned on having a Master Youth Intensive, which would lead into AYCOfest and then the San Diego Circus Festival to directly follow. By training 15 selected artists through a five week intensive in various disciplines, the intention was to kick start The San Diego Circus Festival events by providing our Master Youth Intensive a platform to perform a 45 minute production during opening ceremonies of AYCO. The Master Youth Intensive in collaboration with Cirque Du Soleil was led by Jean Luc Martin, Dan Griffiths and I, while the staff consisted of seasoned professionals from Cirque Du Soleil and Ecole Nationale De Cirque, as well as San Diego Circus Center’s in-house team of professional coaches. While the AYCO opening ceremony performance revolved around integration, choreography, and group work, several of the master youth intensives stayed in San Diego to perform their individual acts during The San Diego Circus Festival, giving the artists the best of both worlds in performance opportunity and experience. It was a summer they will never forget. For more information in regards to this year’s AYCO Festival, check out this article.
Meet the Festival
This year’s San Diego Circus Festival held a standard of artistic excellence and exposed passionate performers of many kinds. Two professional artists from Las Vegas, NV, Gregory McElroy and Ariel Mosier, performed a duo chinese pole act that incorporated thought-out transitions, intentional placement, and told an unusual love story. One of my long time students, Lindsey Billings, performed aerial hoop in our emerging artist category and mixed modern technique with deliberate spinning. Lexii Alcaraz, also in the emerging category performed static aerial hoop and mixed lose movement with structured techniques. Both artists pushed the boundaries of artistic innovation. The Festival showed itself to be truly about the artist : a place for artists to come together in a non competitive environment, expose their work, and be inspired. And yet, Martin’s idea of doing a Cirque-Off and using taiko drums evolved into a competitive ‘give and take’ improvisation performance, as each day one person did not make it to the next level. This gave that section of the festival a competitive nature, which was in its own essence accepted due to it being an improvisation.
Through Cirque – Off, artists were challenged in their disciplines to think on the fly, pull from their skill sets, and in some instances work with a partner all while capitalizing on the live dynamic drums, (which they were given access to an MP3 of five minutes before they hit the stage.)The challenge of improvising with a partner is that it is not all about the performer, there is a lot of teamwork that has to happen in the moment, without hesitation. Improv is an acquired talent that is about making a choice and knowing how that choice will affect the audience, yourself, and who you are working with. This was a collaboration unlike any other in that it was exhilarating, unexpected, and freeing. It proved to tell a rich and passionate story– because taiko is a heavily rooted aspect of Japanese history, community-based, and the most widely practiced ‘popular-cultural’ art form in contemporary Japanese society.
Julia Ruth, the Winner of this year’s Cirque-Off and also a practitioner of taiko, said of her experience, “I had such an amazing time at the San Diego Circus Festival. I found it a warm and welcoming environment to share my newest routine and I enjoyed the opportunity to teach my passions through different workshops. My absolute favorite part of the festival was the live taiko Cirque-Off; It was such a special opportunity to perform and improvise to live music with some added light competition. The structure made it a truly enjoyable learning experience.”
Circus is not just about the “act” or the “skill”, it is the intention behind it that makes all the difference. It takes a village of passionate individuals to put on an event of this stature including teams in lighting, sound, rigging, production, planning, scheduling, and of course performers were all essential to make the San Diego Circus Festival dream a reality. As iron sharpens iron, San Diego Circus Festival brought artists together, which by environment, encouraged talent growth.
Julaine Hall, who performed rope and chinese pole at the festival mentioned, “SDCF was an incredible collaboration of people from all around teaching and learning and sharing. It was a big inspiration for me to see all of the coaches/pros performing at they’re top and getting to see all of my peers prepare acts, learn from the professionals, and perform. SDCC is a medley of all different kinds of high-level talent and the festival was a wonderful extension of that!”
Two years ago a seed was planted over a light conversation between Martin and I about whether the development of a circus festival should incorporate any sort of competition. Martin was adamant about keeping circus at its heart a celebration (non-competitive) and I agreed that yes it should be a celebration, but also added that healthy competition provided incentive for artists to grow. A seed is only a seed until it is planted and carefully paid attention to, from there it depends on the environment as to whether it continues to grow. Master of Ceremonies, Martin concludes, “San Diego Circus Center was established seven years ago and very early on I knew I wanted to create and welcome a circus festival to San Diego. Not an easy feat, by any means, but with the circus and entertainment community we have built over time, 2019 was the year. We learned a lot about the process and experienced an overwhelming response from artists all over the world. With the initial success of our SDCF debut, we can’t wait to see what next year brings!”
Feature photo: Rope act w/drummers in background : Jocelym Olum & Julaine Hall performing duo rope during the taiko drum "Cirque - Off." All photos provided courtesy of San Diego Circus Festival. All photos/video by Rob Riingen Photography