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When you were little, did youdream of running away to join the circus? That clich├ęd fantasy sums up the American desire to abandon structured society in favor of pipe dreams. But who actually goes ahead and does it? As we all learned from Water for Elephants, a life in the circus can only lead to one of three tragic ends: getting thrown off a moving train, burning to death in a flaming big top or marrying Reese Witherspoon. (Too soon?)

Of course, the art of the circus has come a long way since the Depression days, thanks largely to the influence of Cirque du Soleil.Even without live animals, Cirque’s avant-garde aerial spectacles still inspire children to leave home for the flying trapeze. Case in point: aerialist Amanda Orozco, a young performer I interviewed a few weeks ago. The Winter Garden native really did run away to join the Cirque; this week, she returns to Central Florida as “Azala the Air Spirit” in the Cirque du Soleil touring production Dralion.

The journey that’s brought Amanda to the air above the UCF Arena floor began at Downtown Disney a decade ago when her mom took her to see Cirque’s La Nouba for her 12th birthday. “That was pretty much a life-changing day. It was all downhill from there,” she jokes. “I was mesmerized. I came out of the show saying, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do with my life.’ At 12, she supported me, she told me to follow my dream. But I don’t think she expected me to run away and join the circus five years later, which is exactly what happened.”

To be fair, Orozco’s “running away” was with parental permission, and her escape involved rigorous training in tissue (her cloth-climbing specialty) at Montreal’s renowned National Circus School. Orozco attended West Orange and Ocoee high schools, and was a competition dancer with Clermont company Shooting Stars School of Performing Arts (formerly Joan Crawford Dance Studio), which she credits with “provid[ing] a lot of my training for what I do now. I’m very thankful for that background.”

After high school, she moved north for what she describes as “an intensive three-year training period” at the National Circus School (Canadian tax dollars in action!). While the school isn’t directly affiliated with Cirque du Soleil, its corporate headquarters just happen to be directly across the street. Cirque recruiters “keep an eye on” the student talent pool, and they contracted Orozco for the current tour of Dralion directly after she graduated. Ironically, the show premiered in 1999, making it even older than this 22-year-old performer’s interest in the art form. Like its cousin La Nouba, Dralion is a variety show of acrobatic acts showcasing Cirque’s signature elaborate design aesthetic and hypnotic live music.

The show’s overarching theme is “balance,” and balance, both muscular and emotional, is central to Orozco’s role as half of Dralion’s romantic duet. Imagine trying to look lovingly into your partner’s eyes while swinging from a sheet several stories above solid ground. “It’s very interdependent, and being the love story, I think that’s a good mental picture of what that implies on a biomechanical level too. Because we are interdependent: Sometimes I’m attached to the tissue, and he’s only holding on to me, and vice versa. … You depend upon each other, in both an artistic interpretation of the act and, obviously, in a very physical way as well.”

Orozco expects plenty of her friends and family to fill the UCF Arena for her homecoming shows (“my mom has been practically a second publicist”) but don’t look for her to return to the area long-term any time soon. After touring North America through 2012, the company expects to travel to Europe, Asia and Australia, and Amanda plans to go along. “Being young and traveling and seeing the world for your job is pretty awesome. You definitely want to take advantage of it while you can. It’s a great gig.”


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