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Brave Space swings by International Children's Festival

Aloft Circus Arts builds a show from the ground up filled with community spirit
Chicago-based Aloft Circus Arts presents Brave Space, a widely acclaimed production about community spirit, to the International Children's Festival of the Arts from June 1 to 4. SUPPLIED

Anyone buying a ticket to Brave Space at the International Children’s Festival of the Arts better be prepared to work. This is no sit-back-on-your-butt circus performance. But from Internet descriptors of people who witnessed this troupe, the 45-minute experience is “playful,” “immersive,” and “magical.” 

The show starts with a pool of fabric on the ground covering six artists. Through the assistance of both performers and audience, it gradually grows into a 25-foot-high monolithic tent constructed from light nylon parachute fabric.  

“They build the tent together. It’s part of the show almost like a barn raising. It’s a combination tent and blanket like when you were a kid and everyone sits on the ground creating a cozy atmosphere,” said Shayna Swanson, artistic director of Aloft Circus Arts.  

Back in 2017, the Chicago-based creator, a former competitive gymnast and diver, wanted to develop a show that brought communities together and supported people in need, especially the most vulnerable. 

“It coincided with the rise of Trump and the appointment of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018. At the time, shows like the dystopian Handmaiden’s Tale were very popular and it was a time when dark, negative things were prominent. We wanted to make a show that would counteract that. And we wanted to make choices to support women,” said Swanson. 

Since the audience is prominently involved in lifting the tent, she explains the show cannot be done without their assistance. 

“We give them an element of trust not normally asked of strangers and they respond in positive ways.” 

The tent is raised within the first 10 to 15 minutes. Once assembled, a variety of circus arts tell a story involving acrobatics, juggling, and high-flying aerial acts. 

This all-ages show made its world debut in November 2018 at Aloft Circus' private venue. 

“Here in Chicago, we have our own space. It’s an old church that is a combination circus school and performance space,” Swanson explained. “When we put it out there, people liked it more than anything else we’d done before.” 

Since then, Brave Spaces has performed in 45 cities around the world. However, it was the troupe’s pop-up showcase at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival that grabbed Canadian eyeballs. 

The show travels on average nine weeks each year wherever Aloft Circus finds a venue. Easily adaptable to either indoor or outdoor locations, artists have performed in tennis courts, warehouses and an old movie theatre to name a few. 

“Our message is definitely about working together and supporting marginalized people and lifting their voices so they can be heard. When we act together, we are stronger than on our own.” 

Aloft Circus presents Brave Space at the International Children’s Festival from June 1 to 4. The outdoor show will be held on the corner of St. Anne Street and Perron Street. Tickets are $16 plus handling fees. Go online at or call 780-459-1542. 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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