Circus hearts in centre ring

Variety show presents circus-arts from all angles

Samantha Halas performs with Melanie Botelho-Urbanski as part of last year’s Prism Cabaret at the Gas Station Arts Centre.

Photo by Chris Hearn

From hula hooping, to contortionist towers, to miming and juggling, Heartache Hotel is presenting Winnipeg’s circus-arts culture from all angles.

Samantha Halas, producer and director of Heartache Hotel, says there are more than 20 acts in the show this year.

“It’s like a variety show in its main form,” Halas says. “Because all the acts come out in their own time, but then it’s all encompassed by a story.”

The story that intertwines the acts is of Elvis-obsessed characters Tannis and Eldon who head to the Heartache Hotel for Valentine’s Day. There, they run into all sorts of problems, including a variety of dark haunts and interesting people.

Halas says this show has a more sinister undercurrent than her previous shows, and she suggests kids not attend.

“It’s a little bit darker,” Halas says. “I was a little worried about going with the darker themes because maybe it’s not going to appeal to everybody. I was nervous about it, but ticket sales have been going crazy.”

One of the performers in the show, Liz Cooper, says she’s excited to take her act into new territory.

“I’m performing an act on aerial net. It’s a darker and more twisted style of movement with a somewhat menacing character,” Cooper says. “Aerial acrobatics usually have a graceful and ethereal style, but I love experimenting with different approaches to aerial choreography.”

Cooper says it’s her third year participating in one of Halas’ productions. She says Halas has a knack for creating stories that can connect many diverse acts together and her shows are getting stronger. 

Halas, a contortionist, is performing in the show alongside other contortionists.

“I’m building an act with four girls,” Halas says. “We are stacking on each other and making all sorts of crazy shapes. I’m excited and didn’t even realize how good it’s going to be until we started working on it.”

As far as the circus community goes in Winnipeg, Halas and Cooper agree that it is small, but growing.

“There are so many performers here from such a wide array of circus disciplines,” Cooper says. “We’re all bouncing off each others’ ideas and energy. Winnipeg is well-known for its dance, theatre, and music scenes, and the circus-arts scene is now becoming an important part of the city’s culture too.”

Halas says the circus community is intimate and everyone within it probably knows everyone else.

“It’s growing though. My friend initiated a circus space where we can go and train. It’s a pretty amazing new step for the circus scene,” Halas says.

Shows like Heartache Hotel are a great example of people from circus-arts coming together, offering growth.

Halas says she’s been exposed to different styles of circus-arts from many countries through travelling with circuses.

“That’s what I really hope for Winnipeg,” Halas says. “We are on the cusp of defining our own style.”

Published in Volume 70, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 11, 2016)

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