The Flying Españas mix motorcycles and trapeze in ‘Flippin Metal Circus’ 

click to enlarge The Flying Españas and the Wheel of Destiny. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • The Flying Españas and the Wheel of Destiny.
Gravity-defying acrobats are not new to the Rochester Fringe Festival. But few acts place the audience in the middle of the action — with the performers literally overhead as they soar through the air — like The Flying Españas do.

A famed family of performers now in their fifth and sixth generations, The Flying Españas premiere their new show, “Flippin Metal Circus,” at the Rochester Fringe Festival on Sept. 16 and 17 at Parcel 5.

“The audience is everything,” producer Matt Morgan said. “They’re the ones who show up, they’re the ones that left their comfort zone.”

The large metal contraptions the acrobats use in each act will be positioned on the outside of the parcel, putting spectators in an open space in the center.

“Putting them in the center is immersive, it makes them participate in the experience,” he explains. The free, half-hour-long performances begin at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. each night

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Morgan was inspired to create the show because of COVID restrictions on indoor events. He started researching outdoor circus acts popular in Europe, and he eventually reached out to the Españas to create their own version of those shows.

The Flying Españas pride themselves on unique shows, and they say being closer to the audience also helps them tune their performance to each crowd.

“Different locations with different audiences, you can pick up a vibe from different places you go,” said Ivan España, the youngest of six siblings in the original Españas’ family trapeze act. “Our performances aren’t like manufacturing — same, same, same.”

Brooklyn-based band Mountain Girl will be improvising a live soundtrack for the performance. Its music blends psychedelic rock with synthesizers, creating a high-energy, ever-evolving accompaniment for the high-flying acts of the Españas.

Music, flourishes, facial expressions: these are small things that, once tweaked, make a big difference for the final product.

“We keep changing things,” said España’s wife and fellow performer Alison Blei. “We have so many variations on styles, music, and costumes; we’re always willing to try something different. Although it’s hard to do that, you have to keep practicing more, the end product is something you couldn’t foresee.”

The first iteration of the Flying Españas debuted its innovative trapeze act in Mexico City in 1975. The three brothers, three sisters, and their parents performed in the Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey Circus during the ’80s before setting out on their own.

Their new take on the flying trapeze emphasized elegance and fluidity, modernizing the act. The Españas were inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame in 2018, having made significant contributions to the art and culture of the circus.

Despite its initial focus, the family stopped performing on trapeze in the early ’90s in favor of high-octane acts involving large metal apparatuses and motorcycles. “The youngest ones, starting with me, started to want to go need-for-speed with everything,” España said.

But during the pandemic, España and Blei’s son, Sian España, asked to revive the original Flying Españas act. Now, the trapeze is featured alongside the Wheel of Destiny and Motorcycle on a High Wire.

Despite being a flier his entire life, Ivan España said the shows still make him nervous.

“As a good performer, you can’t be calm,” España said. “You have to have a little sense of fear, especially in what we do. There has to be nervousness, controlled nervousness, but the question is: Are you enjoying it? Does that nervousness thrill you? It does for me. It’s weird, but I like it.”

This story is part of CITY's partnership with the students of S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications' Goldring Arts Journalism program at Syracuse University.
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