The crowd around center ring is biggest when the St. Louis Arches begin using the troupe members' bodies as a jungle gym to climb high above the average adult's head. It's no surprise that the most popular shows put on through the everdaycircus at City Museum are the St. Louis Arches' performances. Watching adults juggle fire, walk on stilts and whiz around human obstacles on unicycles is fun, but watching children as young as 4 perform these traditional and not-so-traditional circus stunts adds a whole new level of excitement for audience members, who usually lean heavily to the younger side of 10 or 11.
If the St. Louis Arches are familiar to you, it may be because they were a regular act in Circus Flora before the organization went on sabbatical this past season. "I feel comfortable saying we were the most beloved act of Circus Flora -- maybe with the exception of Flora the elephant," says Jessica Hentoff, Arches coach and choreographer.
The switch of venue from circus tent to urban museum might seem odd, but actually it's a perfect match between two organizations that both promote a sense of fun and discovery. Whether by simultaneously eating an apple and juggling or by jumping rope while standing atop large rubber balls, this small group of St. Louis inner-city youths always keeps the atmosphere light and full of surprises. Museum visitors who head up to the third floor to catch the act can also have fun with hands-on everydaycircus fun such as body painting, sand art and circus cuisine.
Another bonus of seeing this high-energy circus act at City Museum instead of in the tent in Forest Park is that it allows the young performers to branch out into new territory -- specifically, the trapeze. "They used the Wallendas in Circus Flora, so this is a really great opportunity for the Arches," says Hentoff. From a single swaying bar, young Nathan Sykes performs a solo trapeze routine and 15-year-old Ines Flenoy and 9-year-old Elliana Hentoff-Killian, Hentoff's daughter, perform a double-trapeze act. Hentoff-Killian goes on to perform an aerial ballet that involves her spinning around while hanging by a foot, upside down, from a rope.
Of course, any time 4-year-old Kellin Quinn takes the stage, it's hard to take your eyes off this adorable charmer. Looking as if he's barely out of diapers, he performs some of the same feats as the older performers, not to mention the handy trick of tossing his devil sticks while walking on a rolling globe. This isn't to say Quinn doesn't occasionally drop his sticks, but like a seasoned performer, he just moves right along, as do the other Arches. The group's members work cohesively, assisting each other with stunts and bouncing off each other's bodies in ways that require complete trust.
After the show is over, excited children rush over to Hentoff to find out whether they can join the circus. Happily, the answer is yes, and this is how, after more than 10 years in existence, the Arches continue to grow and reach out to new audiences.