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Newport teen flying high with Vikings and Valkyries in Circus Juventas

Jaidan Ludescher, 18 of Newport (iright) and Kate Schullo, 15, of Woodbury are student trapeze artists performing in "Nordrsaga," the summer showcase at Circus Juventas in St. Paul. Submitted photo courtesy of Circus Juventas. 1 / 2
Emilie Davidson, 15, of Woodbury, practices her balance skills at Circus Juventas in St. Paul. Submitted photo courtesy of Emilie Davidson. 2 / 2

When Thor is angry, the Earth trembles.

The nine Norse realms are roiled by the theft of Thor’s hammer in “Nordrsaga,” this year’s student showcase at Circus Juventas in St. Paul.

Since 1994, the performance academy has trained thousands of young people in the old-school circus arts of trapeze, tumbling, teeterboard and trampoline. And let’s not forget acting. The kids are coached by veteran professionals from around the world, including alumni from Cirque du Soleil and the Great Moscow Circus.

About 100 students will bring the gods and monsters of Norse mythology to life under the big top tent, showing off the skills they’ve been learning at summer day camp.

Among the cast of “Nordrsaga” are a bungee trapeze artist, a flyer, stilt walker.  Their teachers at East Ridge High School know them as Jaidan Ludescher, Kate Schullo and Emilie Davidson. 

“Nordrsaga,” runs July 27-Aug. 13.

The Bungee trapeze artist

In “Nordrsaga,” Thor and his allies encounter tricksters in their quest to find his hammer. For example there’s a Loki double, who is played by Jaidan Ludescher of Newport. She loves circus Juventas. So does her mother.

“I love to climb on things,” said Ludescher, 18, who will be a senior at East Ridge High School. “I did gymnastics for a while after while. After I quit, I continued climbing on things.”

She climbed trees. She hung from the stair railing and from the rafters in the basement. Enough, her mother said. Either go back to gymnastics or try Circus Juventas.

“My first impression of (the) circus was that it was going to look like the circuses from the movies, like with the dirt floors and collapsible tent,” Ludescher said, “but my first day of classes I fell in love because it fit me the best.”

In “Nordrsaga” her featured act is the bungee trapeze, in which she flies through air like an arrow shot from a bow. Bruised feet are an occupational hazard, she said, because she lands feet first on the trapeze.

Ludescher also performs on silks, which are fabrics that aerialists climb and hang from to perform spins, contortions and other maneuvers.

The Stiltwalker

Emilie Davidson, 15, of Woodbury will perch atop some very tall stilts in her role as Na, the leader of the Ice Giants. Thor must bargain with them in his quest to recover his hammer, which was stolen by Loki, the god of mischief.

“We’re pretty neutral,” Davidson said of her tribe. “We’re traders and hagglers. We’ll help whoever pays us the most.”

Circus Juventas was founded in 1994 by Dan and Betty Butler, who met when they were teenaged circus performers as teens in Sarasota, Florida.

Their goal is not to turn kids into professional performers so much as to boost their confidence, fitness and social skills.

“I really like the environment there,” Davidson said. “It’s very supportive, especially in the lower levels. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you still get to perform and you still get to make friends. Once you get to that higher level it’s ... gratifying that you made it that far.”

She first enrolled in 2008 after she saw a friend perform. Among the skills Davidson can put on her resume is the walking globe, where she walks while balancing on top of a large fiberglass ball. It moves under her like a treadmill.

“They start you wedged between two mats so it doesn’t really move and you get used to the feel of being on it … I can go pretty much until I get bored,” she said.

An athletic background helps, but it’s not required, Davidson said. The exploratory and recreational classes start with the basics.. Students are as young as six.

 The flyer

Kate Schullo, 16, of Woodbury will perform the Russian Cradle, a daring and difficult aerial ballet. As “flyers,” Schullo and fellow aerialist Mariana Thompson are thrown by their partners from stationary platforms at the opposite ends of the tent. They must catch a moving target — a swinging scaffold of sorts.

This will be her fourth Circus Juventas production.

Schullo’s coach is Dmitri Arnaoutova, a second-generation circus artist whose father created the Russian Cradle while performing as part of the Great Moscow Circus.

She joined Circus Juventas because she wanted something to do after she quit gymnastics.

“A lot of it is similar to gymnastics,” Schullo, 16, said. She appeared in last year’s showcase, “Wonderland.”

“My mom thinks it’s really cool,” she said. “My dad gets a little scared sometimes. We’re pretty safe about it too.”

“Whenever I tell people about the circus they’re like, ‘Do you have elephants?’ We try to explain that we’re more like Cirque de Soleil, with equipment. It’s not so much animals and clowns.”

If you go:

Nordrsaga runs July 27-Aug. 13 at Circus Juventas 1270 Montreal Ave., St. Paul. Admission is $17.50-$40. For more information, visit

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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