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Riding the Cyr Wheel With Cirkopolis Star Angelica Bongiovonni

The circus artist reveals the secret behind a very difficult balancing trick: practice.

"That spinny thing" is the most basic way of defining "Cyr wheel," and describing how it's used by performers and acrobats across the world. The performer stands inside the center of a single circle and then uses his or her body to move around, pushing the limits to the fullest extent.

Angelica Bongiovonni has been practicing the Cyr wheel for five years and is currently showing off her amazing talent at the Skirball Center in Cirque Eloize: Cirkopolis, running through January 5 at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Bongiovonni began her career at the age of seven as a fixed trapeze artist with the L.A. Circus, before an injury forced her to explore other options. Rather than give up, she fell in love with the Cyr wheel at the L'École nationale de cirque in Montreal, where this new talent was born.

TheaterMania and Bongiovonni discussed her truly unbelievable feats of balance and gravity — and how such a difficult trick can prove to be the ultimate de-stressing tool.

Angelica Bongiovonni rides the Cyr wheel in Cirk Eloize: Cirkopolis.
(photo courtesy of the production)

How did you get started performing on the Cyr wheel?
When I was young, my mom put me in a trapeze class. I happened upon the Cyr wheel from an injury. I was doing trapeze but hurt my back and couldn't take the dynamic force anymore. The Cyr wheel was a lot softer on my back and helped strengthen my core.

What do you remember about your first time riding the wheel?
It really wasn't fun. [laughs] It's kind of like learning how to walk again or ride a bike. It's a really weird feeling and I just fell all the time. I had so many bruised hips and knees. I'd lose control of the wheel and almost hurt people in the studio. I actually hit myself in the face and got a huge busted lip.

Is there a secret to doing it well?
I don't think there's really a secret. It's not something that you have to have a specific skill for. It's really just to get used to the spinning. There are some people who start to feel sick or get really dizzy. It takes hour and hours of practice.

Do you think about other things while you're riding? Or are you just concentrating on maintaining your focus?
I would say when I'm working on technique, it's really robotic. When I'm performing, I get into my own little bubble. One of the reasons I like doing this number is that it can be interpreted in a lot of different moods. It can be nostalgic or sad or happy. That helps me. Sometimes I'll be really sad [and] take that all out in the number. [Riding is] a really important part of my day, actually.

What's the most important piece of advice you can give to aspiring Cyr wheel performers?
There are a lot of people who start it and realize that it takes a long time to get the spinning down. There's a point where you start to understand the motion of the wheel, and from that point on, everything goes super fast. So I would say don't give up.

Watch Bongiovonni ride the Cyr wheel below: