American Couple Flies High at French Circus Event

At a four-day festival in Paris, the world's up-and-coming circus acts are on display. None of those selected for the elite festival are older than 25. This year, two trapeze artists from Seattle were among the competitors.

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Now here's a story for anybody's who's ever dreamed of dropping everything and running away to join the circus. Each year in Paris, audiences have a chance to see some of the performers who actually did that. It's a four-day circus festival in Paris featuring some of the world's best acts. Reporter Eleanor Beardsley recently paid a visit and met a young couple from Seattle who have given their lives to the high trapeze.

(Soundbite of music)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Under a big top on the edge of Paris, the most promising young jugglers, acrobats, clowns and trapeze artists from around the world perform to a packed house at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain, or Worldwide Festival of the Circus of Tomorrow. The highly competitive circus is restricted to performers under the age of 25. Director Alan Pacherie(ph) says of 900 applicants this year, only 24 were selected.

Mr. ALAN PACHERIE (Director, Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain): (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: It's hard to become known when you're an acrobat or juggler, he says. But an artist who participates in this festival will immediately be discovered by the entire circus profession. High trapeze act Duo Madrona has come from Seattle. The handsome couple, 25-year-olds Rachel Nehmer and Ben Wendel, say being selected was a dream come true.

Mr. BEN WENDEL (Trapeze Artist): There's 2,700 seats in that circus, and I want to move every single one of them. I want to move the audience. I mean, this show for me is really - we've been practicing so long, four years now, and really keeping it all for us. And it's time to give it - give it out.

BEARDSLEY: Rachel and Ben didn't grow up in circus families and discovered their talent relatively late. But once they did, their chemistry together on the trapeze consumed them.

Ms. RACHEL NEHMER (Trapeze Artist): Our number is pretty theatrical. Like it's about us meeting each other and creating something beautiful together on the trapeze, and then it's over. It's very ephemeral, but it's also very human, you know.

BEARDSLEY: In the audience are some 200 circus aficionados from around the world scouting for talent. One of them is Paul Binder, founder and artistic director of New York's Big Apple Circus.

Mr. PAUL BINDER (Big Apple Circus): There are two things that we at the Big Apple Circus look for in artists. First of all, they have to be virtuoso. They have to be able to turn the summersault, the double summersault, with grace and with beauty. Equally, it's important at the Big Apple Circus, we're looking for people who can make contact with the audience.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: As the Duo Madrona performs, their taut bodies flow together in a sort of moving sculpture. Only four years ago, the two were lab partners training to be biologists. Rachel had spent several youthful summers at a circus camp but had never considered it as a career path. Then someone gave her a trapeze that she hung in a madrone tree outside her apartment. She convinced Ben to come up and join her. The rest is history. The couple says they are often asked what the connection is between biology and trapeze.

Mr. WENDEL: Really the only answer, and Rachel said it, was we are the connection, you know. I mean that's - we just had this insatiable urge to create something on the trapeze, and we're following that.

BEARDSLEY: Out in the audience, Big Apple's Paul Binder is clearly impressed.

Mr. BINDER: They have a certain maturity about them. They're extremely graceful. This is a classic pas de deux in the air, an adagio.

(Soundbite of applause)

BEARDSLEY: The Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain gives the chance for young artists like Nehmer and Wendel to make it to the big time under the big top. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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