Circadium, the first state-licensed higher education program for the arts in the United States.
The brain-child of long-time circus arts student/performer/enthusiast Shana Kennedy, Circadium, is a kind of ultimate artistic iteration of what once was a small aerial arts program she and husband/performer, Greg Kennedy, hosted in their Mt. Airy home in early 2000. That first iteration, AirPlay, soon grew larger and became The Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, offering children and adult classes in juggling, aerials and other circus skills out of a small Germantown warehouse. This Fall, what first became just a dream in Shana Kennedy's mind as a young circus student at Circomedia, a circus training school in England, has come to full fruition. The Gala last evening was a way to show the public the Kennedys and their brilliant faculty and board mean serious circus business.
Walking up a Christmas-light glittering slate path at the "Circus Campus" at 6452 Greene Street there was already an air of mystery and magic as the purple glow and mix of electronic and acoustic music emanated from the former house of worship windows. Guests were guided through the dreaming "brain" of the building in an ingenious method to maintain traffic flow and show off both the space and some of the performers in a very intimate way. Our "professor" explained the different states of dream sleep in quite accurate scientific terms as he guided us through the dim theatrically lit hallways. Our first stop was a retro chalkboarded classroom where an oddly caped and gyrating Noa Schnitzer did some hilarious interpretive dance to Beth Eisenberg's fully improvisational song "Here, You Take The Keys", a line suggested by an audience member when asked, "Tell me something someone said to you today."
We were quickly whisked up two flights of stone stairs to a full-cement attic where Mark Wong and Caoyang Wang (one of the inaugural Circadium students) did a kind of break-dancing interpretive movement piece lit by only our cell phones. Aside from being amazed that these men were spinning on their heads on concrete, the eerie quality of the beams and shadows made this a favorite little space.
From there we sat on the ceramic foyer steps watching one of the most impeccable ring juggling acts performed by Circadium students, Delaney Bayles and Zak McAllister, both IJA award winners. Their stone-faced perfection contrasted delightfully with the quirky live music/vocals of performing artist Eppchez.
Descending next down into the gymnasium underground of the building we were greeted by some strong aerial artists, among them instructors, Megan Gendell and L. Feldman who used percussive accompaniment to show incredible power and poise on the static trapeze. We were ushered to the other half of the gym to witness a theatrical static trapeze piece through a shadow scrim, a beautiful way to close out the "guided tour" whereupon we ascended a small but sturdy metal spiral staircase that opened up onto the main floor. Once an altar and church proper, now a tremendous open space, it was a scene of Bohemian splendor: Tightrope walkers, Silk Aerialists, Parisian flare jazz and a delightful spread of hors-d'oeuvres among the most eclectic mix of Philadelphia artists and arts lovers under the vaulted ceilings of this new house of Circus worship.
Circadium is seeking to give a place for America's new circus artists to learn, to perform and to go out into the world and bring new pieces to an audience hungry for substance. If last night was any indication of their direction, Circadium will continue to ascend the heights to put American Circus back into the entertainment vernacular, only, like the dream world our guide took us through in those shadow halls, American Circus is not going to look anything like we're used to. And that's very exciting.