Robbinsdale native to perform in Circus Juventas summer show

“Nordrsaga” runs July 27-Aug. 13

By LACI GAGLIANO
laci.gagliano@ecm-inc.com

A promotional image from the 2017 Circus Juventas summer show, “Nordrsaga.” (Submitted photo)

Robbinsdale resident Annika Koukkari-Mason, a 15-year-old sophomore at Armstrong High School, will perform July 27-Aug. 13 under the Big Top at Circus Juventas in St. Paul during the summer show, “Nordrsaga.” Since her circus debut in 2009 at age 7, she’s been unstoppable in her passion for the circus, and will showcase her dance skills during the performance.

Koukkari-Mason said she fell in love with circus performing after her mom brought her to a Circus Juventas show. She said that it took two years of dabbling in other sports, from soccer and swimming to ballet and gymnastics, to convince her mother that her burning desire to join the circus was worth the fairly long weekly drive from Robbinsdale to St. Paul.

“Every time after I quit one of those other sports, I would say, ‘Mom, I want to do circus. That’s my passion.’ Two years go by and finally she lets me go, and I love it so I stayed with it. And now my little sister is starting,” she said.

Circus Juventas is open to children and youth from toddlers through age 21, with numerous opportunities to cultivate athleticism, artistry and leadership through circus performance.

Koukkari-Mason describes herself as a contortionist, a dancer and an aerialist.

“I mainly do aerial type things. I do triple trapeze, where there’s three bars connected and four girls holding each other up and swinging around,” she said.

Gaining the bravery to perform such daring acts took little time for her to get used to. For her, it’s far less terrifying than speaking in front of a large group of people. When asked if she feels confident in her tricks, she responded without hesitation: “Yeah. Definitely.”

“I’m not the most outgoing person, and I hate talking in front of people, but when I’m onstage I don’t feel nervous. I feel exhilarated. It’s so much fun,” she exclaimed. “Nothing’s going through my head like, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to drop this person.’ All I’m thinking is that this next trick is what I have to do, and I should point my toes or smile or do whatever I have to do.”

Koukkari-Mason was at the Circus Juventas headquarters July 19 to get fitted for her Nordrsaga costume. Inside the performance ring, youth rolled around on unicycles while others flew or dangled from the ceiling, wrapped in silk webbing or laced through hoops and harnesses. There is no room for fear or hesitation, since one false move could mean a mistake, or worse yet, an injury. She said there is pressure involved in her role as a trapeze base, meaning she holds the feet of others while they do contortions and tricks. Fortunately, she’s skilled in her role, and the ground is covered in thick padding for protection.

“I’ve never dropped anybody, but I’ve fallen. I did it when I was lower to the ground, so it was fine. It’s kind of scary, but it’s easy enough to understand that you can just get up and do it again. It’s kind of grounding to know that you’re still safe when you’re falling,” she said.

She said the summer show is usually the big showcase for the public, and that older members or performers with higher skill levels perform.

“I’m not doing that much in the summer show yet, because I’m not that advanced yet,” she said. She will, however, dance in the show as an undead person, and described the routine she’ll perform while other performers do aerial tricks and acrobatics.

“It’s more of a background dance. It’s both rigid, yet also very pliant. Because I’m a dead person, a lot of times I move my hands really quick and then kind of act like I’m rusty and can’t move. A lot of it is on the ground, because it’s really hard to stand up when you’re dead,” she explained.

The plot of “Nordrsaga” is described as “Vikings, Valkyries, gods, and one mere mortal quest to find Thor’s hammer and save the universe.” Nordic mythology is the central theme, and the story is told through a circus nouveau style, which combines artistic storytelling with impressive physical feats. The show is professionally staged and features a 15-foot Viking ship and approximately 70 of Circus Juventas’ most advanced performers.

Circus Juventas coach Dmitiri Arnaoutov, who grew up in a famed circus family with the Moscow Circus, is the show’s creator. Katy McEwen, the co-artistic director for Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis, wrote the script. In the story, the main character, Leif, is transported into the Nine Realms, full of trolls, elves and giants, where he is tasked with retrieving Thor’s hammer to prevent Ragnarok, the destruction of the universe.

“It’s Thor and Loki and the Sun Queen,” Koukkari-Mason said.

This is the Robbinsdale teen’s second summer show. She hopes to continue progressing in her performance, aspiring to get higher and higher in the air for her trapeze act. Although she’s not comfortable doing every type of trick, beginning in the circus affords the opportunity to try out different areas to see which one is the best fit for anyone who is interested in joining. Trial and error played a huge role in figuring out where she herself felt comfortable.

While circus performing is her favorite thing to do, does she have any plans to run off with the circus after high school?

“Probably not, just because as I get older, I’ll have more stuff that I need to do. And it’s hard to be a contortionist when you’re older and less flexible,” she said.

“It’s a good hobby to have, and it helps me get connected to friends and have confidence, and have fun after school,” she added. She also works as a coach with the circus, which in turn helps pay for part of her tuition.

Koukkari-Mason said she actually prefers Circus Juventas performances over large, professional productions like Cirque du Soleil.

“I feel more connected to watching, whereas when I watched Cirque du Soleil, I was up really high and couldn’t really see. It was really good, but I like seeing kids who have gone through so much being able to perform,” she said.

Tickets for “Nordrsaga” can be purchased at www.ticketworks.com or by calling 612-343-3390, and through the Circus Juventas box office by calling 651-699-8229.

Info: www.circusjuventas.org