Friday’s Imaginario Circus production boasts a fire-thrower, aerial fabric routines, a pole dancer, a slackline walker, jugglers, breakdancers, Acroyoga and lyra (the hanging hoop). Adventurous local couple Hattie Miller and Steve Ward started the troupe a couple years ago, training with Salt Fire Circus members (though that company has sadly disbanded since). The Imaginario troupe members morph regularly, but this show’s cast is close to 15 people (plus ‘ambience’ performers, who will throw fire and hand out raffle tickets; you can win a $150 gift card to Your Flesh Tattoo at the show). They typically put on two big annual performances, in addition to a number of smaller shows throughout the year. In memory of Ward’s son Sawyer, Imaginario will donate proceeds to the Second Wind Fund of the Four Corners, which is a suicide prevention awareness group focusing on teenage suicides. “This puts our hearts in it, in the right place,” said Miller.
Miller has been a trained dancer, gymnast and thespian since she was little; she’s actually in every single scene of this year’s Imaginario, titled “Reflections.” Miller and Ward got into aerial fabric routines when they went on a date to the Salt Fire Circus. “I was like, ‘I want to do that!’ and he was like, ‘Me too!’” remembers Miller.
Ward appreciates the strength-training and workout he gets from practicing aerial, while Miller feels its dance-y and creative enough to suit her. Hanging from the ceiling of their shared home is almost 19 feet worth of fabric on which they rehearse (and occasionally do tricks to impress their friends). Ward has no dance background – he actually works as an engineer and builder. But he has taken to the acrobat lifestyle well. While Miller and Ward share their lives, their careers are kept separate, aside from this collaboration. She admits it’s probably harder to collaborate with someone you’re dating, if ultimately more effective. “When it’s not someone I’m this close with, I’m more sensitive about what I say, and I’m not as honest because I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” said Miller.
There aren’t many words in “Reflections,” although there is a clear narrative you can follow. The only speaking role was given to MC Tyler Frakes, who will assume his drag persona for the show, aka Cookie Saint Germaine. This year’s production is all about the ego and the masks people wear; “the two main characters go through a process of seeking their true selves,” Miller explains. Jaime Becktel was cast as the main female figure, and Taylor Mars, a performer from Pagosa Springs’ Thingamajig Theatre, is the male protagonist. “They start off as a married couple who just dropped their kid off at college, and they’re suddenly left alone (wearing masks) with each other,” said Miller. “They split, go on separate journeys to try and find themselves. It’s not just a variety show circus, there is a story – which is different for us.” In one scene, the girl goes to a yoga class, where the circus pokes fun at the “ickiness” of something so apparently pure. “There’s dudes who just go to yoga to pick up chicks, and there’s that whole ‘I’m so spiritual’ thing,” laughs Miller. The man, alternatively, goes to a strip club, which you would expect to be scummy; “but actually, the stripper is the person who guides him,” said Miller.
“Reflections” isn’t the kind of clown-happy, elephant-doing-tricks, tented circus you can take your children to. There will be two showtimes on Friday: the earlier for ages 18+ and the latter for 21 and over. The age restrictions exist because the show features very sensual burlesque elements. The 21+ showing will host a dance party afterward, with DJ Niko spinning.
“Reflections” has a set color scheme, but none of the performers wear matching costumes; everyone picked their own outfits, the only rule being that they had to be sexy. Costumes of any sort are likewise required for audience members in attendance (but they’ll still let you in if you refuse to get dolled up). “Durango loves dressing up,” she said. “We’ve seen other troupes get this huge following; it’s almost like “Rocky Horror,” everyone will dress up and go see it. That’s what we’re trying to do.” One of Miller’s favorite things about Ward when they first met was his giant costume box. “I was like, ‘You are my dream man. You’re straight and you have a costume box!’” she said. Maybe in small towns like Durango, people feel more comfortable letting their freak flags fly, hence everyone getting decked out in strange attire so often. “But that’s not true in Cortez or Dolores; it’s not the same!” said Miller. “There’s something about Durango. Maybe it’s all the uranium, I don’t know.”