According to Phantom Circus founder and director Natalie Brown, power is understanding your own strength and your ability to create change. I believe it is safe to say that many would agree.
The Phantom Circus is Denver’s premier circus performance troupe, and they will be performing at this year’s annual Power Gala on October 12. When asked how the troupe began, Brown said that it was quite a story. She was right.
“I grew up in the arts,” she said. “I belong to a military family, so we lived all over the place. I went to nine different schools. My mom was a closet artist, so all of us kids ended up growing up in the arts. I started in ballet and did a lot of school theatre and making things. My mom taught me about costuming when I was about 10; then I got into classical music.
“I ended up getting a degree in English at Tulane University in New Orleans, and thought I would be a journalist. So, I was working as a classical music and dance writer for Gambit Weekly in New Orleans, but I then threw my back out. It was pretty bad. So, when I got through that and kind of put my body back together, being a dancer, I figured maybe taking a dance class would be a good way to strengthen my body and help me feel better. So, I started belly dancing.
“I did that for about a year, and fell in love with the dance, culture, music, and challenge,” she continued. “Then, a year later, Hurricane Katrina hit. All the theaters and pretty much all the culture was under water. I knew there was no coming back. My family had retired and settled down in Columbia, South Carolina, and I went there to start over. I started a belly dance company, and that accidentally ended up expanding into a circus in a barn parking lot.
“This was about a block from where the Confederate Flag was at the State House. This was in like 2006 or 2007, and I started to see the punk burner underground circus movement start on the West Coast through the internet, and this was even before YouTube was a thing. I thought it was beautiful. It just caught my imagination. So, I grabbed a couple performers and combined them with my belly dancers. We started a circus in our parking lot. I had no idea what I was doing.”
The troupe was called Alternacirque. However, after Brown and the troupe started to hit the ground running, the economy crashed.
“No one could afford to go anywhere,” Brown said. “Of course, being a small southern city, it did not take long for word to get around that a Katrina refugee belly dancer had just started a circus in the parking lot. So, everybody came running. We went from maybe 30 people coming to our shows to 500 or 600 people coming to our shows in just a few months. We became this weird cultural phenomenon. The mayor and the arts commission got involved; we became this weird little circus for change.
Brown led Alternacirque for seven or eight years. The performances went fabulously, but unfortunately, the money just was not there. Brown decided to shut down the troupe and move to Colorado.
“There were some people out here that I wanted to study with,” she said. “So, I moved to Boulder, and I auditioned for an elite circus aerial dance training program at Frequent Flyers. I did that for about 30 hours a week for nine months. When I got out, I felt like I was ready to start my new service. I got an investor, and we founded Phantom Circus in 2016.”
Brown considers the Phantom Circus to be Denver’s very own Cirque du Soleil. Performers include aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, stilt walkers, belly dancers, and fire performers.
When the troupe was asked to perform at the Power Gala, Brown says she was honored.
“I am really excited,” she said. “The LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce saw us at a hotel grand opening in Denver, and I was jumping off the top of the building attached to a rope and doing acrobats. They said they enjoyed our performance, gave us a business card, and said they would circle back. We are very honored to perform at the Power Gala.”
Additionally, Brown says she loves being part of the Denver community and performing here.
“Denver is such an interesting place, and we are excited to be a part of it,” she said. “Also, as a queer woman, it is nice to be in a place where I can be myself, and I don’t have to worry like I used to about holding my girlfriend’s hand. We also have a gay governor which is very exciting. I just feel like there is this movement in Denver, and it is exciting to be asked to perform big events that are progressive and inclusive.”
After the Gala, the Phantom Circus will be performing at a corporate event in Boston, and many opportunities are currently in the process.
For more information, visit phantomcircus.com.
Photo provided by The Phantom Circus