The circus is coming to town! But this time, it’s not like anything you’ve seen: this “circus” actually is an exhibit of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which honors contemporary living cultural traditions and celebrates those who practice and sustain them. Produced annually by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with the National Park Service, the Festival has featured participants from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, this year’s event takes place Thursday, June 29, through Tuesday, July 4, 2017, and again on Thursday, July 6, through Sunday, July 9. Activities are held on the National Mall between Seventh and 12th streets. Admission is free. Festival hours are 11 am to 5 pm each day, with evening dance parties at 5:30 pm and circus performances at 7 pm. The “Circus Arts” program is just one of the features of the festival. Here’s what you can expect:
Highlighting the vibrant cultural and artistic expressions of the circus from diverse communities across the country, Circus Arts featurs a Big Top circus tent on the National Mall. Visitors can go behind the scenes to explore everything from traditions passed down through generations to many of the new expressions that reflect changing social and cultural mores that have always been a hallmark of circus life, work and artistry. There will be intimate workshops, full-scale performances and an interactive Circus School where visitors can meet and learn from master artists from across five major circus disciplines: acrobatics, aerials, clowning, equilibristics (such as tightrope walking) and object manipulation (such as juggling). Visitors to the Festival can also meet artists and coaches, costume designers, makeup artists, riggers and more.
Daily matinee performances in the Big Top will include “Wonderland,” a vibrant and dramatic circus adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” performed by Circus Juventas, a youth circus school in St. Paul, Minn. Afternoons will also feature performances by the Atlanta-based UniverSoul Circus and Sarasota-based Sailor Circus. On Friday, July 7, and Saturday, July 8, visitors to the Big Top can also enjoy open rehearsals and performances by Cirque des Voix, which brings together Sarasota’s Key Chorale with acclaimed orchestral and circus artists.
Nightly circus performances in the Big Top will feature award-winning professional artists from around the world with pre-show showcases presented by major youth circus troupes from across the United States. Seating for all Big Top events is on a first-come, first-served basis, except for a ticketed evening performance Saturday, July 1. Visitors can pick up tickets at the information booth before the show. There are no exotic animals involved in the “Circus Arts” program.
Visitors also can view master-class demonstrations held daily at the Circus School inside of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. These will be led by circus legends, including the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellow and aerialist Dolly Jacobs, members of the world-famous Flying Wallenda family, trapeze artist Elena Panova, juggler Patrik Elmnert of Water on Mars and many others from leading circus arts schools across the United States and around the world. Learn more about the Circus Arts program, its mission, and the people behind it.
On The Move
The other main component of the 2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival is On the Move,” which will showcase stories of cultural identity. It will feature live hip-hop, capoeira and poetry slam performances, a naturalization ceremony, and more:
Hip-Hop: Performances by Grammy-nominated progressive hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon. As a performer, Bacon combines various instruments such as the West African djembe drum, acoustic guitar and the human beat-box (oral percussion), all while continuing the oral tradition of storytelling through his lyrics. At the Festival, he will collaborate with Nistha Raj and Shannon Dunne to present a conversation between the sounds and rhythms of his upbringing and Hindustani and Irish musical traditions.
Capoeira: Mestre João Grande and Mestre Jelon Vieira, two capoeira masters from Brazil living in New York City, and some of their students will present workshops, performances, and discussions on capoeira, an ancient Brazilian martial art of African origin. Recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, this country’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts, the two masters pioneered capoeira in the United States.
There also will be poetry slams and workshops, mural art, soccer activities, and two naturalization ceremonies (June 30 and July 7). The Smithsonian Folklife Festival website has details and bios on participants. You can also get updates by following the festival on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.