In our new series titled Meet the Circus School, we will explore some of the many circus schools around the world. We hope to give our viewers an intimate look into each circus school we visit and to aid prospective students who are currently deciding between schools in their decision by giving them a chance to compare programs. In this edition, we will look into the programs of Circus Juventas, a well-known, high level, youth circus school in the US that often acts as a pipeline for children going into professional circus schools or into the professional circus world itself.
School Name: Circus Juventas
Years open: For 24 years. We opened in 1994
Accredited/ affiliated with a university: The Professional Program is currently under development with no roll out date yet available.
Program options: 1-Exploratory/Recreational 2- Intermediate/Preparatory 3- Advanced/Premier
Founders: Betty Butler and Dan Butler
Number of students: 1500 students per year
Number of shows/performances each year: 35 to 40 year
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
Number of instructors: 37
Language of instruction: Mostly English, but we have a great number of international coaches who can speak many different languages.
Our spring shows have a very intricate system to accommodate the approximately 900 performing students, including toddlers and kinder (5 to 6 year olds). One of our staff members created software which can divide the kids and acts into three shows using color coordination. It is a very elaborate system, all the costumes need organization and this software has really helped us master the process.
Circus Juventas offers almost every circus discipline that exists. Some years, we will drop some disciplines and add others. But because of our large and well equipped facility, I think one of the unique aspects is that we can offer acts that you won’t see in any other school. For example: Wheel of Steel:
For this year’s summer show STEAM, We will have the wheel of steel and a boat cradle act, (see Vimeo video of last year’s show Nordrsaga below). We also have a very complete aerial program.
Circus Juventas is a 501(c)3 non-profit performing arts circus school for youth dedicated to inspiring artistry and self-confidence through a multicultural circus arts experience. Our vision is to be the world’s premier youth circus performing arts organization, recognized for providing innovative programming, world-class training, and professional-level performances in a state-of-the-art circus center. Building self-confidence is an important part of our mission and is achieved through creating an environment that encourages leadership and life skills, peer-to-peer teamwork, athleticism, artistry, pursuit of excellence, and community service.
Great Moments in Circus Juventas History
In 2017, in Washington DC, we performed at the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in their Circus Arts Program. Almost 1,000 circus professionals and students from more than ten states and several countries gathered on the National Mall to celebrate circus arts. They collectively performed 724 free public events in 28 venues for over 600,000 visitors. An air-conditioned big top with seating for 1,700 was raised and all along the National Mall were demonstrations of flying trapeze, wall trampoline, juggling, high wire, and more. The recently renovated Arts and Industries Building was transformed into a circus school.
We are so grateful to the staff of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for giving us this opportunity to perform on a national stage, and to Congresswoman Betty McCollum who personally welcomed our entourage to Washington DC at the opening reception held at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Thirty-one students from Circus Juventas performed Wonderland daily under the big top and gave demonstrations throughout the Festival grounds. They met circus legends like Tito Wallenda of the famous Flying Wallendas; Paul Binder, co-founder of the Big Apple Circus; and circus historian Dominique Jando who, in August, presented Circus Juventas with the Circopedia Award for Excellence in Circus Arts before a performance of Nordrsaga.
“I don’t know of any other youth circus in the world that has reached their artistic level in terms of quality of skills and circus acts,” said Dominique Jando, founder of Circopedia.
Meet Juliana Neves
Juliana Neves is a dancer, aerial acrobat, choreographer and contemporary dance/circus teacher. In 2016, she was director and teacher of Panama Area Aerial Dance Festival. In 2014, She was the artistic coordinator/casting director and acrobatic choreographer for the opening and closing ceremonies of the FIFA World Cup Brazil. In 2013, Juliana directed her contemporary circus/dance creation Jump or Fall under her company in Belgium. Juliana was the first artist from São Paulo to join Cirque du Soleil in 1998. She was in the original cast of the showDralion where she was a soloist and one of the main characters. There, she created the aerial act with silks Pas-de-deux, together with her coach André Simard. Neves is currently a coach at Circus Juventas as well as the the co-manager of the Artistic Department and slated to be the founder/director of their professional program.
An Interview with Juliana
Fiona Bradley: Tell us a little about the training facility and what you have to offer your circus students?
Juliana Neves: Our building is a 21,000-square-foot big top, and classes run every day from 3pm to 9 pm and Saturdays almost all day. We offer different tracks, from recreational to semi-professional. There is something for everyone, regardless of body type or skill set.
FB: What makes circus Juventas unique in the US?
JN: I believe it is the fact that we offer a complete program where the kids can be part of a large scale production and learn not just circus disciplines, but also theatre, dance, makeup and all aspects of a performance. They are able to perform for large audiences starting at a very young age. For someone still fairly new here, I can add that it mesmerizes me to see what these kids can achieve and how big of an impact this place is on the Twin cities.
FB: We hear that you might be preparing a BA program. Can you tell us what that would look like and how far along you are in the process of creating it?
JN: Our goal is to create a BFA degree in Circus Arts that prepares graduates for a range of professional circus arts opportunities, with specialized coursework such as live art analysis, dramaturgy/writing for circus, rigging/engineering and entrepreneurship, all supported by the breadth of liberal arts education.Circus Juventas has 1,000 or so under 18 students, a large coaching staff of circus professionals from Cirque and other top performing organizations, and the most complete permanent big top installation in America; it’s in the Highland neighborhood of St Paul. Circus Juventas has never granted degrees, and has always worked with students 21 and under; the vast majority are 18 and under. Most of our kids leave when they go off to college, and most — even very accomplished ones — stop circus at that point. Some go into the professional circus, or a professional school, in Canada, Europe or the USA. In short, we have a big pipeline of students who would continue with circus, but opportunities in the USA are limited, and their families expect them to go to college, naturally. There has been an explosion of youth circus schools in America in the last decade, suggesting that there are many 18-year-olds in America who would consider a post-secondary option if it were offered at Circus Juventas. Nobody else in America offers an accredited post-secondary educational option for circus. We would be the only one, and we are unquestionably the best positioned to do it. Our accredited degree program will provide an alternative path in the US to advanced students in our youth program, and from around the country and hopefully the world!
FB: How long have you worked with Circus Juventas?
JN: While I was in Minneapolis performing in Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion back in 1999; there was an ad for Circus Juventas in our program. Betty says I called her one day offering classes, I don’t remember the call, but I remember going to a High School gymnasium with my silks and teaching some lovely kids a silks class. This was the start of a long relationship. I performed at the opening of this building in 2001 and from that year on, I was always coming to teach workshops. I helped to build the silks program here and helped with choreography and other classes through the years to come. The Butler’s would often ask me to come and coach full time, but I was still on tour with dance company les Ballets C de la B, or doing other projects in Europe or Brazil, and it was never a good time. I would often say that they should start a professional program here, this building is still empty in the mornings, and in 2016 they told me in one of my visits: ‘Why don’t you come and start this school then?’ They have also approached me to be part of the transition team together with Rachel, and help her direct the artistic division of the company in the future.
Meet Student Sarah Grady
Sarah was born in Minneapolis, MN in 2003. She started training at Circus Juventas in 2005 and has performed in many acts, from toddlers and kinders to flying trapeze and handstands. She has already performed in 6 Circus Juventas shows:Oz,Neverland,1001 Nights,Wonderland,Nordsaga, andSTEAM. She’d like to continue to train and perform after graduation from high school (2021) and attend college. She likes reading, listening to music, and of course performing!
Sarah says, “Circus Juventas has always been an incredible place for me. I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful people and amazing friends. I think is so unique, and I love how special it is.”
Meet Educator Rachel Butler
Neves says she met Rachel when she was 13-years-old and she was already involved in the circus with her parents. She taught her silks back in 1999 and every year after that. Nowadays, she is one of the most knowledgeable aerial coaches Neves knows.
Rachel Butler is the daughter of the founders Dan and Betty Butler. Butler received a B.A. in Advertising from the University of St.Thomas in 2008. She’s been training, performing and teaching at Circus Juventas since 1994, and has performed in the Circo Festivale Internazionale di Latina in Italy and in Madeline and the Gypsies with the Children’s Theatre Company. In addition to coaching, she assists artistic director, Betty Butler, with various administrative, technical and logistical tasks for performances. Rachel has also been co-directing the Summer Camp program with fellow coach, MarissaDorschner, since 2012. Rachel describes what she finds to be the highlights of the program “Circus Juventas to me, is really more than a circus school — it’s a community where young people of all ages, genders, backgrounds and personalities can work together as one to create, train and grow as individuals.”
Meet the Instructor–Dmitrii Arnaoutov
Dmitrii began his career at the age of eight in a family of performers in the Great Moscow Circus in Russia. He was part of the Flying Arnaoutov Act, which his father created in 1936 and is now known as Russian or Korean cradle. His six decade-long career included performing and directing with the Great Moscow Circus, Cirque du Soleil, and many other entertainment corporations around the world. In 2003, Dmitrii created his own company, Cirque Nouvel Air, which offered circus performances for corporate events and galas around the world. Finally, he became the head coach of the renowned showCortéo for Cirque du Soleil where he toured for five years in North America, Japan, Russia, Europe, and South America. Most recently, he was part of the creative team for the new Cirque du Soleil show,Toruk.
Dmitrii says, “For me, Circus Juventas is a unique place where children can develop many talents and grow their interest for circus acrobatics while being exposed to many complementary art forms such as music, dance, and acting. We welcome all ages and levels, from young beginners, to aspiring professionals who wish to dedicate their journey to the mesmerizing art of circus.”
Feature photo courtesy of Dan Norman. All other photos courtesy of Circus Juventas.