By Matthew Koehler
I walked into a packed house at the Big Tent at National Harbor to loud, boisterous music while several camels pranced around the ring, then a miniature pony. The soundtrack for the night was a mixture of hip hop, jazz, soul, and gospel. Over the course of the night, I saw everything from intense feats of strength and balance to comedy (be wary of the whistling comedian!) to an allegedly never-done-before triple flip on a human-held balance beam, to death defying stunts that had me asking, “Really though, what if they do fall?” There were no nets, but no one fell.
This all took place at Universoul Circus, a high energy, performance-packed experience that spectators not only watch but participate in – now performing through Labor Day at National Harbor.
Before heading to the show, I spoke with co-Ringmaster Cheyenne, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, to learn about the return of the circus to the DC area and their brand new 29th season.
Matt Koehler: This is the 29th season – sponsored by McDonald’s for the 11th year – how do you keep the show fun and fresh?
Ringmaster Cheyenne: Seeing that we are the most interactive circus in the world, we like to think that once everybody comes under the Big Tent, no matter how old, no matter how young, you guys feel like you are a part of the show. So we have so many acts and performers that allow you to come into the arena to be a part of their act. Or they allow you to come into the aisles and dance with them. You can come and spectate but you’re also participating with us.
MK: Universoul Circus is known for its diverse cast – what’s the greatest thing about working with people from around the world?
RC: It would definitely have to be getting to learn new cultures, tasting new foods, and understanding new languages. Like Universoul Circus is heavy on inclusivity, so it doesn’t really matter what you look like, what you sound like, or where you come from. Just being able to pass on different things amongst each other and share different images with each other is definitely what makes Universoul unique. Because you never know what you will encounter. So it definitely allows us to share that diversity.
MK: That’s awesome. I like that. Founder and CEO Cedirc Walker has said of the Circus that, “We get to share our culture with everyone and each member of the audience leaves with a message: that everyone belongs.” How does the Circus instill belonging in those who come to see it, and do you feel that message is especially important these days?
RC: I definitely do. Because seeing as we just came out of a very difficult time with the pandemic, it definitely caused us to feel like we don’t know what is our next step. We feel stuck. We feel like we don’t know how to proceed and move on. But this show that we are presenting to you guys, our 29th season, is a brand new show! And the theme of this show is “Rise Up.” We definitely encourage a lot of people to see that. No matter what keeps us down – we can always together have unity amongst each other and definitely rise up out of whatever it is that may come our way. Any obstacles!
MK: You said this is a brand new show, is the 29th season different from other shows?
RC: Yes! We have new performers. New acts. New stunts. Anything that you can think of, I can definitely assure you that we will meet your expectations. You’ll be completely ‘wowed’ by the Universoul Circus this year!
MK: Well, I feel privileged to see a brand new show tonight. That’s going to be a lot of fun.
RC: I really hope you enjoy it!
MK: I’m sure I will. Now, you’ve been with the show for over seven years – what’s your experience been like going from a performer to now being the co-ringmaster?
RC: Well, starting off…I was a dancer. It’s a big switch because before I would just be dancing, performing – doing what it is I love, which is dancing. And being able to interact with the audience through my moves and different dance styles and dance steps. So to move into a ringmaster, this gives me the ability now to have conversations with the audience members. Like they come up to me and express how much they are enjoying the show. I have little kids come up to me and say they are inspired to be like me when they grow up! To hear the feedback from the audience myself and literally be able to feel what they feel – they allow you to see that. They love it just as much as us. So being able to feel that is a big difference! Being a ringmaster definitely opened up my eyes to realize that. What we are doing is definitely not for us but is definitely for the audience, and they love it!
MK: So you’re finding that being a ringmaster is the perfect fit for you now?
RC: Which is strange because I wouldn’t have even thought of being a ringmaster. Like, I’m a dancer! Dancing is what I do, dancing is what I love. So being able to get the opportunity to be a ringmaster when the first producer and the CEO suggested it, I was at first a little hesitant because…it’s certainly new waters but taking that chance, taking that leap of faith, and just embracing the opportunity really allowed me to see that I just love to perform. Not just dance, not just be a ringmaster, but perform on that broad scale.
MK: Nice. So how long will you be down here at National Harbor and where can people purchase tickets?
RC: Well, we’re going be right here at the plateau in National Harbor until Labor Day in September. And you can get tickets at Ticketmaster or if you’re close by, you can come right down to the tent at the plateau and purchase tickets at the box office.
MK: Finally, what do you love most about being in DC? Any message for District residents?
RC: What I love most honestly about DC is all the beautiful sights there are to see. Like, there are so many statues, so many monuments, so many tourist attractions that really ‘wow’ me because I love sights. I love sightseeing. That is my favorite part of DC. Especially at National Harbor, there are so many different restaurants, so many different bars, so many different outlets. Like, you can take pictures, have fun, and enjoy. And I just love it out here. I really really do! And I love to see the people of DC, the people of the DMV, rush and come on down and see us! The tickets are going fast. It doesn’t matter your age. Where you come from – your background – every single minute, every single hour of this show, you’re gonna have a great time!
MK: Cheyenne, thank you so much for this interview. It’s been very fun talking to you!
RC: Thank you for having me!