EDGE Interview: Acrobat and Dancer Jon Bonaventura on 'Sacre,' Circa's New Spin on Stravinsky's Classic

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday February 11, 2023
Originally published on February 7, 2023

Jon Bonaventura
Jon Bonaventura  

What may be the most infamous opening night in history belongs to Igor Stravinsky's ballet "The Rite of Spring," whose Paris premiere in 1913 was greeted with such catcalls that the dancers could not hear the music from the pit. It would take at least a decade before the work would be appreciated for its vision power. Today it is part of the standard ballet repertory, and its savage score has been embraced as a major piece in the orchestral repertoire. Leonard Bernstein called it "the most important piece of music of the 20th century."

The Australian circus group Circa offers a different spin on the classic with "Sacre," their acrobatic dance piece that is currently touring the United States. It comes to Boston for three performances at the Shubert Theatre February 9—11 under the sponsorship of the Celebrity Series of Boston.

This version, devised and choreographed by Circa's Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz and The Circa Ensemble, features a new composition by Philippe Bachman that begins the piece before segueing into Stravinsky's score. "In parallel, the performance moves from fleeting solo and duo interactions, with bodies deftly lifted, tossed and balanced, a partner's weight deflected with invisible effort, into a community of 10 performers bound by some ominous force, woven in changing textures and complex structures of limbs, like a tangle of ancient tree roots," wrote Lyndsey Winship reviewing the piece for The Guardian.

One member of the company is out dancer and acrobat Jon Bonaventura, who came to be a member of the company after college and has been with the company for the past eight years. EDGE spoke to him about "Sacre" and being part of the company.

Jon Bonaventura
Jon Bonaventura  

EDGE: For anyone that hasn't seen a Circa show, how would you describe it?

Jon Bonaventura: Circa sits somewhere in between contemporary dance and contemporary circus acrobatics. They are very thrilling shows. They are alive and lots of the choices are made in that moment, which makes it a different experience for everybody.

EDGE: Tell us about your background and training?

Jon Bonaventura: I grew up as a competitive gymnast. As a young teen, I then found my way into TV and film stunt acting and working as a stunt double. At the end of my high school days, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do, so I ended up at the University in Melbourne, Australia, attending the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA). After I graduated, Circa swept me up and I've been touring with them on and off with for the last eight years.

EDGE: What is the message of "Sacre?"

Jon Bonaventura: "Sacre" has an interesting message. We don't necessarily come into something with a direct message. It's often what the audience pulls from the images that we create for them. "Sacre" tells two stories - the first half is a series of capturing moments of interactions with people and how they interact in their private lives and then the second half of the show is based on Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." It's kind of pagan ritual with sacrifice and romance. It's very intense and beautiful.

Jon Bonaventura
Jon Bonaventura  

EDGE: What skills do you demonstrate in the show?

Jon Bonaventura: For this show, I'm one of the flyers. I'm one of the cast members who spends most of their time off the ground. You will find me standing on people, climbing on, or getting thrown.

EDGE: Trust must play a big role when performing in a show like this?

Jon Bonaventura: There's a lot of trust. We rely on each other to stay safe and work hard to look after each other.

EDGE: How do you prepare for the company's physically demanding repertoire?

Jon Bonaventura: We spend about three hours before every performance warming up and making our way through the set. Then when we can, we spend a little bit of time playing and creating new material. Being on the road for so long and doing the same show over and over you always need to find ways to keep the show interesting for yourself.

EDGE: What role does music play in the show?

Jon Bonaventura: Music is very much its own character in this show. In the first half of the show, we have a brilliant French composer, Philippe Bachman, who has created a whole set of tracks that guide us through these interactions. For the rest of the show, Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" plays. We rely on the music to take us where we need to go.

Jon Bonaventura
Jon Bonaventura  

EDGE: Do you want to share your message of appreciation for Circa's LGBTQ fans and why should they come see the show?

Jon Bonaventura: As a queer person myself, what I love about Circa and the work we do is that we've removed ourselves from gender. Our art form is about what your body can do and not where you came from or what your body has been told that it should do. I also love that we show a lot of beautiful intimacy between humans of all genders and all sexualities. It beautiful to see two men on stage touching each other so tenderly, but in a way that is just so caring. There's none of this pretense of heterosexuality and homosexuality. It's just humans being together. I find it beautiful and compelling as a queer person.

EDGE: If you could describe "Sacre" in three words what would they be?

Jon Bonaventura: Passionate, aggressive, and fleeting.

EDGE: Why should people come and see Circa's "Sacre?"

Jon Bonaventura: It's a very personal experience. I love that each audience member always takes away something different from it. I think when you see this show, you will be able to connect and apply it to your own life.

"Sacre" plays at Boch Center Shubert Theatre: Thu, Feb 9; Fri, Feb 10; and Sat, Feb 11, 2023 @ 8 PM. Tickets start at $49, and available online at at this link.