Circus Spenard: Church of Love hosts contemporary performance act

This article was originally written for the Anchorage Press.

What does a large bear puppet, contemporary circus and a Joanna Newsom album all have in common? The Church of Love’s artists in residency have been developing their upcoming show since the new year, A System of Strings.

Circus artists Esther de Monteflores and Ariel Schmidtke met at a circus collective in Bellingham, Washington and have been paired up since. Their show incorporates wire walking, trapeze and acrobatics with elements of theatre and dance.

Monteflores describes contemporary circus as “a little stripped down” from a traditional tented circus. It’s more interested in the human aspect and storytelling, she says.

“[Circus] is inherently and totally a live art form. You can watch videos of circus but really, the thing about it that’s engaging is that you sit there or stand there and watch the thing that actually happened, that someone performed this amazing feat,” Monteflores said.

The story follows two characters, a monkey and a bear, who were both raised in captivity. They suddenly are released and quickly learn what freedom is like, while trying to maintain a connection with each other. Monteflores and Schmidtke are working with an album with words, “Ys” by Joanna Newsom, where the characters are pulled directly from the songs on the album.

Schmidtke lived in Anchorage for about 10 months last year and wanted to make the connection with shadow puppetry and the lack of light in Alaska’s winter months. She had seen Pearl at the Church of Love, a visually pleasing conceptual portrait of destructive habits. She knew that Anchorage was embracing experimental art and thought A System of Strings would be a good fit.

“Some people tell [their stories] through music, some people tell it through musical performance. Some people write it down in a notebook or publish it in press, but there are so many different ways that we can do that and this is just kind of our specific way that we do that,” Schmidtke said.

Monteflores and Schmidtke both felt strongly about having a local musician or artist open for them; Schmidtke believes it creates a connection not only with the artists but within the community. Phillip Blanchett of Pamyua will be taking the stage solo as their opener and is excited to preview some music he’s been working on over the years.

“The content is really special to me, it’s really energizing and gets me all pumped up.” Blanchett said.

Schmidtke was connected with Blanchett because his work had more storytelling and narrative aspects that sounded like it would meld well.

“This is a really wonderful push to do something in our arts community here.” Blanchett said.

Even though A System of Strings is just beginning, the pair hopes to eventually take it on the road.

“Touring is definitely something that we’re going to do with this show in the future.” Monteflores said.

The show is suitable for audiences of all ages and tickets can be purchased at asystemofstrings.brownpapertickets.com. Performance runs from January 25 – February 4.

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