Fly Movement Salon offers ground zero for New Orleans’ circus arts training

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The future of New Orleans’ circus arts scene is hanging in the balance — or, maybe more accurately, about 20 feet in the air. Dallas Alexander, a petite 23-year-old with a gymnast’s physique, is grappling with a pair of crimson silk ropes hanging from the ceiling of Cafe Istanbul in the monthly Fly Movement Salon.

Working her way up, spinning lazily around, and working her way back down again, Alexander is literally trying to get the hang of this form of circus arts performance, the aerial silks. They’ve become a mainstay of both circus-themed performances around New Orleans as well as in more conventional burlesque shows such as Rick Delaup’s Bustout Burlesque and Trixie Minx’s Fleur de Tease. And it’s starting to catch on with this younger generation of performers.

Including Alexander, a Biloxi, Miss., native who’s spent the past three years dancing on Bourbon Street but has spent the past two years adding the silk ropes to her pole experience . This Tuesday night marks only her second time performing in front of a Fly Movement Salon audience, which gathers monthly to watch newcomers learn the ropes of the circus scene.

“It’s an extremely laid-back environment. The audience (members), even if you mess up, they don’t notice or they don’t care,” she said. “The fact that we’re participating or we’re trying, or starting somewhere, is a good thing to have.”

She said she only messed up once in this performance, “but apparently nobody noticed, so … .”

There was plenty variety on this evening, which doubled as a little fundraiser for fellow performer Clay Mazing and his work with both his own Emergency Circus and Clowns Without Borders in helping entertain Syrian and Afghan refugees in Europe. Coordinator Liza Rose and fellow producer LadyBEAST were even able to hail Clay Mazing in an iPad for a brief Skype chat with the audience at the end of the evening, from an airport in Europe.

Beforehand, the audience got to enjoy a song Sami Smog plucked on her ukulele, juggling by David Chervony, rope work by Penelope Little, Say Rah performing with a hula hoop, and then a closing duet on the ropes by Liza Rose, the seasoned veteran, and Sarah Stardust. It was all emceed by Alison Logan, the self-proclaimed “Original Classy Broad” and a recent transplant from Chicago who filled in the gaps between performances with silly jokes a few songs (including a hilariously dark turn on the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”). Chervony, perhaps playing to the notion of the evening as a workshop, pretended to keep dropping one red pin, followed by a smirk at the audience before flipping it back into his hands with one foot.

Scanning the stage, an older audience member smiled and observed with a thick Irish accent, “It’s the best reason to come out: watching a bunch of clowns pursuing their dreams.”

The show raised nearly $500, according to Rose.

Learn more about the Fly Movement Salon by visiting its Facebook page.

Fly Movement Salon hosts benefit show Dec. 1 for Clay Mazing’s work with Syrian refugees

Each month, New Orleans’ top circus and variety performers get together and showcase their latest works at the Fly Movement Salon over at Café Istanbul. But next week they’ll get a chance to showcase their work while supporting the very timely work of a fellow performer helping Syrian refugees.

Clay Mazing, known to some for his work at Cirque du Gras (which I covered here for NOLA.com) has taken his initial project work with the nonprofit group Clowns Without Borders in Greece and is continuing to perform with Syrian refugees as they continue on their journey. Right now he’s in Macedonia. And because now he’s supporting himself on the journey — working with his own troupe, the Emergency Circus — he needs some help, and his friends back in New Orleans are ready to go.

The next Fly Movement Salon, which will be held Tuesday (Dec. 1) at Café Istanbul, will feature performances by co-organizer Liza Rose (who I’ve also covered here) paired with Sarah Stardust, as well as David Chervony, Emily Chervony, Sami Smog and Golden Delicious, Penelope Little, and more to be announced soon.

Molly Levine, the director of the New York-based Clowns Without Borders, performed with Clay Mazing and a couple others during their project trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, which included 32 shows over 16 days for Syrian refugees who have already endured major hardship.

“If I could say one thing to my close friends, that I wish people would understand, is the sheer enormity of tis crisis,” Levine said. “The people who are arrive in Greece, these are middle-class people, they’re children, they’re old people, their families, and they’re coming knowing this is a dangerous trip for them. The choice for them in taking this trip often is between dying and maybe dying, and so they chose maybe dying, so they chose these trips.”

For Clay Mazing, it’s been an emotional and fulfilling journey.

“I feel so blessed to be following my dreams out here,” he said via message. “It’s obvious that people need this kind of empathy out here. When someone is starving and you offer an apple they take it hungrily. The same is true for people starving for joy. Some of these people (not just children) haven’t laughed in days because they are constantly moving through boats, tents, trains, and busses without knowing what’s next.

“It’s really this focused attention we give to them that they appreciate. The Red Cross and others give them blankets and tea but we provide some simple relief from the constant stress,” he continued. “And we all make instant friends. Tonight we all laughed and played music and danced around the fire. These friends are so damn full of love it’s insane. I don’t know how they keep it up honestly after being treated like cattle they offer their cookies and blankets to us.

“I’ve had so so many heartfelt hugs and deep eye contact thank-yous. There’s too much to say.”

(It should also be noted that Moniek de Leeuw of the Balcony Players also is performing, on violin, with Clay Mazing.)

(Related: Follow Clowns Without Borders’ project here)

Fly Movement Salon co-organizer Liza Rose has worked with Clay Mazing on several productions and sees him as a perfect fit for this kind of work.

“He is a delightful raconteur, a shameless ladies man, the penultimate poster boy for the Peter Pan complex … And he has, without a doubt, the shiniest heart of gold you’ll ever meet,” she said. “When he’s here, he spends a lot of his time arranging and performing shows for kids in hospitals, folks in nursing homes, at special needs schools, and wherever else it’s needed. As a sometimes guest performer with the Emergency Circus, I can tell you that it’s a special kind of thrill to bounce up in the Sh’zambulance (when stateside, the EC travels in a converted ambulance) and hear Clay on the megaphone saying, ‘It’s an Emergency Circus!'”

As for Clay Mazing’s work, Levine said, “He’s is a very special performer. He’s also really versatile. If you’re in New Orleans you’re probably seeing more of the edgy Clay Mazing, the cowboy who’s cracking his whip, and with the flaming shotguns. It’s fun crazy stuff.

“And when he is doing the Clowns Without Borders shows, he’s in character, but as a really child-friendly clown. He does comedy,” Levine added. “He does slapstick. He loves to perform with the charango (a lute-like string instrument). The reason that Clay is the best performer to be doing this tour for the refugees he’s performing for is because, when he’s going, he never stops. If there’s a kid nearby, he’s always on. We’ll do two, three, four shows in the morning and be wiped out and will be going to lunch, but if he sees some children, those fake teeth will come on, and he’s performing again.”

Liza Rose echoed those sentiments: “He is doing what we all wish we could do, what we all think about briefly right before we think, ‘… but what about all this other stuff that will be hard and all the things I have to give up…?’ Clay’s not thinking about that. He’s living in the moment and using his talents to make a real change in the world, human to human. He should be a national fucking ambassador.”

Visit the Fly Movement Salon’s Facebook event page for more info.