Victor Abadilla took his first steps inside a big top.
So it's no surprise that the eighth-generation circus performer wowed the crowds with his complicated juggling routine on Saturday at Cirque Italia, a European-style water circus that is hosting shows under a sprawling white-and-blue-swirled tent in the Barton Creek Square parking lot through Sunday.
But the life of a circus performer isn't all glitz and glamour, said Abadilla, 21, who also helps run the box office before each show.
"You might see us when you're buying tickets, you might see us when you come buy popcorn, you might see us when you're buying souvenirs," Abadilla said. "We do all sorts of things."
For the audience at the two-hour-long Italian-themed show — which features a stage that incorporates 35,000 gallons of water that rise and fall in time with the music — the experience is like attending a miniature Cirque du Soleil performance, complete with gravity-defying acts, jaw-dropping stunts and goofy clown gags. (As a side note, many of those clown gags, which included chastising audience members for everything from their weight to their blond hair, could desperately use a rewrite.)
For the performers who have spent years training to be part of a circus like this one, however, each show is a chance to fulfill a dream.
"Circus has been such an integral part of the American experience, so it's really cool to be part of it," said Samantha Kulinski, 26, a Cirque Italia aerialist. "I'm honored to be part of such a long-standing tradition."
It can be complicated, however, to tell people about her day job.
"I'll be at the dentist or something and they'll say, 'So, what do you do?'" she said. "I hesitate and say, 'I'm a circus performer.' Then the questions start rolling in."
Kulinski grew up as a dancer in Central Wisconsin and dreamed of running away to the circus. Eventually she moved to Chicago to pursue circus training and last year auditioned and was cast for Cirque Italia. She said that while being on tour for 11 months at a time can be difficult — the show takes only a one-month break for Christmas — she's become extremely close to her fellow cast members, including Abadilla, to whom she's engaged.
"He runs the motor for my aerial act, which is good for trust, because I know he's got me. And if he messes up, I can scold him later," joked Kulinski, who also is a face painter before the show and during intermission.
Kulinski said she and Abadilla are planning a wedding in Wisconsin in late 2019 while the show is on break and hope to build a life together in the circus.
"I love performing, and I'm incredibly inspired by the other performers in the show who have been performing in the circus for years," she said. "People say once you have children and get married you have to settle down, you can't do all these crazy acrobatics anymore, but my perspective is totally different. I see people that have multiple children still working in the circus, still performing absolutely beautifully. There are a lot of different paths to take. We'll see what the future holds."
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