Razor Sharp

Alyssa Hellrung brings bad-ass to acrobatics.

The transition from academia to circus work may seem as great a leap as the tricks Alyssa Hellrung performs as a trapeze artist at the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA) in Georgetown. But Hellrung sees parallels between her current position leading youth troupes at SANCA and her work on a Ph.D. in women's studies at the University of Washington. The determination of the students she trains reminds her of the elite young female athletes she studied for the dissertation she finished last year, she said."My interest in young athletes and my interest in circus collide in a really cool way [at SANCA]," she said, "even though this isn't considered a traditional athletic activity."Hellrung herself started acrobatics at age 16, when a group of friends pressured her into trying the flying trapeze at a Club Med resort. "I thought I would hate it," she said. "But I did it once and I was all over it."Though finishing high school and attending Notre Dame took priority over her aerial work, she trained on trapeze whenever possible. She later became a student at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts and directed a circus-themed summer camp for eight years. Then last summer, after academic jobs proved scarce in the current economic climate, she took a position running SANCA's flying-trapeze rig. Now, she said, "I can't imagine my life without circus."Hellrung will perform at Artopia both with her youth troupes and in a solo show on static trapeze. Her solo show, titled "Razor Sharp," is more aggressive than anything she's done in the past, she said. The movements are sharper and more purposeful. She focuses on driving into them rather than being floaty and elegant."I spent several years trying to be pretty on the trapeze, and my strength is actually in being more badass, according to my teacher," she said. "So I went that direction and I love it."Hellrung always strives to balance sheer displays of power with artistry, she said. "Acts that are just, like, trick-trick-trick are rather boring if there's no transition or context."In Seattle, striking this balance is particularly important, because the city has a large community of aerial performers who understand the characteristics of a talented acrobat. "If people aren't aware, you could do whatever you want on the trapeze and they'd be like, 'Wow, that's amazing!'" Hellrung said. "Here we are actually pushed to innovate constantly."Though impressing the Seattle aerial community demands skill, Hellrung said she feels constantly inspired by the performers around her."I'm very excited that I still have people that I can look up to—way up to, literally and figuratively," she said.rcohen@seattleweekly.com

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