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What it takes to start a circus in Singapore

These entrepreneurial young artists are out to prove that a career in circus arts can be viable here.

“Jack of all trades, master of none.” Unlike this phrase their company name is inspired by, Circus of Altrades aspires to push the boundaries of what the circus industry could look like for Singapore in the years to come while challenging the idea that it cannot become well known for circus arts.

The relatively small arts scene means that something as niche as circus arts is often sidelined, especially in terms of public appreciation. However, this troupe believes that with a new generation of open-minded, daring players, the circus arts can blossom into a recognised trade in Singapore and the region. Koh Jia Sheng and Beverly Wan, the young co-founders of this company, are gifted artists themselves. Koh tumbled into the world of acrobatics with seven years of gymnastics training before moving on to a considerable career in dance.

He was a backup dancer for K-pop group BTS during its Singapore leg of the 2019 Love Yourself world tour. He also performed with fantasy illusionists Magnus Utopia for the World’s Got Talent 2019 semi-finals. Wan is a self-taught acrobat who started her journey as a circus artist at 15. She has trained professionally at the Sydney Trapeze School and Flying Trapeze Philippines, and attended the 2020 Australian Partner Acrobatic Convention.

Then, she established herself in Singapore as an instructor at Adedance Artistic & Aerial Productions. While Circus of Altrades was Wan’s idea, she recognises that if they want to make it big in this industry, they would have to go overseas. The pull to stay in Singapore, however, proved too strong because of her love of the place she grew up in. So Wan is determined to build something here.

“A for-profit company, Circus of Altrades wants to ensure that its performers are treated as professionals.”

Koh, who had a dream to seriously pursue movement arts as a career, was convinced by her vision. Despite there being several well-established circus groups here already, the pair feels that there is still a gap between where the industry is and the likes of internationally-renowned productions with an animal-free mix of awe-inspiring acrobatics from firms such as the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. While starting a circus arts company is a risky business – even more so during a pandemic – their goal is to establish a place where former sportsmen, such as gymnasts, can apply their skills while giving aspiring, young circus folk like themselves – both of them are 23 – an opportunity to “fly” as circus artists, and realise their dreams of performing and being taken seriously while doing so.

Circus of Altrades is a for-profit company. This decision was made with the ethos of wanting to respect the welfare of their artists and treating them as professional performers with commensurate pay. Additionally, they did not want to compete directly for resources, including government funding, most arts establishments have had to struggle to get and share. So, they’re blazing a trail themselves by starting during the pandemic to give their performers as much time to train as possible before performing for the public. With 12 performers honing various skill sets and counting at the time of writing, Altrades is working on bringing many diverse and exciting new acts to Singapore such as a banquine – a graceful acrobatic act with a group of at least three people – and showcasing their current talents in juggling, acrobatics, fire techniques, chair stacking and more that will stir the souls of audiences here.

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