In “Nouveau Sud, Nouveau Cirque” (“New South, New Circus”), creator and UNC Charlotte professor CarlosAlexis Cruz aims to give performance space – and a voice – to artists typically underrepresented in Charlotte.
The show is described as a “social circus” rooted in Charlotte’s underground dance and acrobatic theater scenes. Cruz began the process in 2014, after winning a $25,000 McColl Award.
To find underground artists, one can’t just put out a casting call. “I had to find community allies to make connections,” Cruz says. He needed people with natural talent, and he needed mostly minorities to tell their own stories of struggle. It wasn’t easy. Underground artists don’t just announce themselves.
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Chris McWayne, 34, has been with Cruz since the circus was only a dream, and was his essential conduit to the hip-hop community. McWayne is an MC, producer, writer, house dancer and rapper who says he “dabbles in B-boying.” Cruz calls him his closest collaborator.
Once Cruz found one person in a particular group (break dancers for instance), more and more people from that group began to emerge.
Dejarius (“DJ”) Bright, 23, works full-time at Food Lion and has been break dancing for about eight years with his crew, Familia Vongola. While Bright has performed many times, and on stages as big as the Knight Theatre, he was new to circus arts. “I never dreamed of this,” he said. “There’s kind of a stigma to the circus. You think: clowns and freaks.” But Cruz pushed him to learn new tricks. He now feels comfortable using aerial straps to lift himself to dizzying heights.
“My apparatus is both graceful and rough,” he said. “It takes effort, but the result is clean and elegant. But you go through some coarse parts to get there. You progress to elegance.”
Once Cruz assembled his cast – who are black, Latino, Asian and white, and some of whom will be performing on a stage for the first time – he began the process of shaping their stories into a narrative. This show has no script and very few words. “We have to portray a feeling without vocalizing,” Bright said.
It’s a compilation of the performers’ personal stories, told through movement. “A story is always best told in first person,” Cruz says.
The result of all this diversity coming together? Both tension and happiness, Cruz says. “At some point, what you see on stage may look chaotic.
“But that’s the unfortunate reality”: Life is messy, and art helps us make sense of the mess.
The cast, which “feels like family,” says McWayne, worked out their stories together. Bright says he would try something on the aerial straps, then ask a cast-mate for feedback. If he didn’t get what Bright was trying to convey, he knew he needed to keep at it.
“What we’re saying needs to be obvious to the audience,” he says. “But it’s not always simple finding the obvious answer.”
‘Nouveau Sud, Nouveau Cirque’
When: 7:30 p.m. April 29-30.
Where: Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.