Opening up the Pan Am Games

Toronto’s Pan Am Games have sparked a surprise effect in the Beach – a spike in kids ready to join the circus.

Millions saw the Cirque du Soleil open the Games on July 10 with fire and acrobats, but a handful of young Beach dancers got to share the stage with them.

Angie Lawrence, 14, felt a blast of heat when Cirque gymnasts leapt over a line of fire nearby. And despite the music and the choreographer’s voice in her earpiece, not to mention the 55,000 fans and athletes cheering in the Rogers Centre, she was dancing so close to the Cirque performers that she could hear the click of their stilts on the stage.

Angie Lawrence
Angie Lawrence

“It was so full of adrenaline,” she says.

After the show, Angie’s phone “exploded” with texts from friends and family.

Some said they could pick her out from the 150 other kids who danced with glowing lamps around the Cirque performers – Angie had just dyed her hair pink for her Grade 8 graduation from Glen Ames.

Rehearsals for the ceremony started in April, well before school ended, and ran from morning to night in the preceding weeks.

Speaking before the big show, 13-year-old Freeland Scarabello said he had acted before, but gymnastics and acrobatics were totally new.

“When I went to the audition and saw girls doing back-tucks and backflips all over the place I was like, ‘What am I doing?” he said.

But besides good moves, something Freeland got from karate lessons at Horizon Martial Arts, Cirque producers also wanted performers with big facial expressions – any one of them could get a close-up in a TV broadcast for 15 million viewers.

Freeland, 13, left, Rhys, 12, trained with the Cirque du Soleil since April in the lead-up to performing at the  Am Games opening ceremony on July 10 at Rogers Centre. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Freeland, 13, left, Rhys, 12, trained with the Cirque du Soleil since April in the lead-up to performing at the Am Games opening ceremony on July 10 at Rogers Centre.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Freeland had already played extras in movies and TV shows, including Guillermo del Toro’s vampire series The Strain, where he played a blind school boy turned bloodsucker.

But even The Strain sounds a bit down-to-Earth next to the high-art Cirque du Soleil.

“Interesting,” said Freeland, slowly, when asked what he thought of the famed Quebec circus.

“Some of the performances are a little bit weird, but some of them are like, awesome.”

Rhys McClean, who also takes karate at Horizon, saw the Cirque perform Kurios last year in a big tent on Cherry Street.

“I really liked it,” he said. “They’re amazingly different.”

McClean joined the Pan Am team with more than his karate yellow belt. The 12-year-old Williamson Road student can also do the worm, the six-step, and the coffee grinder – breakdancing moves he learned at the local Creswell Dance Academy.

“Once you get into dance, it’s just fun,” he said. “It flows.”

Angie Lawrence says she is a bit sad that the show is over, but it was a thrill to be part of a circus act seen around the world.

“Circus has less publicity than it should,” she said.

As a member of the local Zero Gravity Circus, Angie said she will keep learning new ways to act, dance, and perform acrobatics that do what circus does best – express emotions without voice.

As for running away and joining the Cirque du Soleil, Angie, Freeland, and Rhys were all on board.

“Maybe,” said Freeland, thinking it over. “Like, if I get to tour with them in Vegas and stuff, yes.”

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