St. Paul is home to Circus Juventas, the largest youth circus in North America. The 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization and performing arts circus school was founded in 1994 by Dan and Betty Butler, who met as teens while training at Sailor Circus in Sarasota, Florida. (Their own mentors included Tom Edelson, Guinness Book World Record holder on flying trapeze, and high-wire daredevil Gunther Wallenda of the famous Flying Wallendas.)
In its earliest incarnation, formerly dubbed Circus of the Star, Circus Juventas was a humble after-school program for 30 kids at a rec center in Highland Park. Its growth over the last quarter century has been exponential: The circus now serves 1,500 students via year-round classes and summer camps and stages full-scale, Cirque du Soleil-caliber theatrical productions in a 1,000-seat, purpose-built arena.
Thanks to a tip from Minnevangelist reader @foxlover58, we snagged last-minute tickets to Circus Juventas’ 25th anniversary show, “Twisted.” The 2.5-hour acrobatic spectacular was an original production riffing on fairytales like Rumpelstiltskin, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Everything about the production was professional—from the lighting and sound effects to the set production, makeup, and costumes.
Maybe everyone in St. Paul already knows how talented these kids are, but as newly minted Minnesotans and first-time circus-goers, we were floored by their extraordinary athleticism. Students were bouncing 20 feet off trampolines, tumbling their bodies like Olympic gymnasts, twirling flaming batons, juggling on unicycles (while crossing tightropes no less!), balancing on teetering chairs stacked to the heavens, and unspooling their bodies like yo-yos on aerial silks. We reattached our jaws and just shook our heads in disbelief, reminding ourselves that some of these advanced performers are still in grade school. The young man who plays Jack, in particular, is one to watch—we wouldn’t be surprised to see him starring in a Vegas revue a few years from now.
Of course, Circus Juventas students are trained by the best of the best. Their elite coaches hail from Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, the Great Moscow Circus, and the Mongolian State Circus. Their acolytes, in turn, have earned rave reviews from Circopedia and performed at the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. They’re that good.
Its also worth keeping an eye on CJ’s event calendar for one-off touring shows like L’Homme Cirque from Swiss acrobat David Dimitri. As the name indicates, this is literally a one-man circus, with the endearing Dimitri setting up his own tent and performing every trick in the hour-long show. That includes goofy clown gags, high-wire walking stunts, and shooting himself out of a cannon.
Circus Juventas Big Top
1270 Montreal Ave., St. Paul, MN; 651-699-8229.