Cirque-style circus features Dakota County teens

  • Updated: July 26, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Kayleen McQuillan, 17, of Mendota Heights, does a handstand at a Circus Juventas rehearsal.

Photo: Photos by Liz Rolfsmeier • Special to the Star Tribune,

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A 20-year-old Cirque-style group features under-20 performers.

When her daughter Kayleen was seven years old, Anne McQuillan said, she didn’t take to sports the way some other kids did.

“We had tried different competitive sports,” she said, “but they just weren’t her thing.”

After a class at Circus Juventas, the St. Paul youth-circus school, Kayleen, of Mendota Heights, found her niche. She adored it and even built a platform in her living room to practice handstands.

“I love it so much,” said Kayleen, 17.

The high school senior has landed major roles in the last few summer performances, playing characters like Dorothy in “Oz” and Gretl in “Grimm.” This year, she will take on the part of Tinker Bell in the upcoming performance of “Neverland,” an adaptation of “Peter Pan.”

The show, the 20th-anniversary summer production for the circus, runs July 31 to August 17. It features about 75 performers, with the role of Tink and some other key roles filled by Dakota County performers.

“She seemed like the perfect person to play our Tinker Bell because she’s a little petite thing,” said founder and artistic director Betty Butler, also of Mendota Heights.

Petite and up high

“It kind of works for the character,” said the 4-foot-11 Kayleen McQuillan. “I’m really, really small, so a lot of times, people hold me up.”

She is enjoying the shift from the sweet girl characters she’s played in recent shows, such as Dorothy in “Oz” in 2013 and the preacher’s daughter in “Showdown” in 2012.

“She’s more sassy,” she said, of her character. “I get to be mad, almost evil. It’s kind of fun to have a change of pace.”

“Neverland” follows the basic story line of “Peter Pan” but it immediately becomes a big top affair. During an early bedtime story scene with the Darling family in their London townhouse, the beds are revealed to be trampolines.

“In the Broadway version of ‘Peter Pan,’ they’ll have Peter Pan on strings flying around,” said Matt Foman, 18, of Mendota Heights, who plays Tootles the Lost Boy. “In this show, they use a flying trapeze.”

Foman said he particularly likes the flying trapeze scene, which lifts a sword battle into the air.

“There’s swords flying everywhere and fists,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

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  • Maika Isogawa, 17, of St. Paul, works on a fire fan dance routine.

  • (Left to right) Claire Seifert, 16, of Eagan; Jack Smith, 13, of Dellwood; Rachel Gunther, 17, of St. Paul; Mara Mergens, 16, of St. Paul; Matt Foman 18, of Mendota Heights; Madison Grady, 15, of St. Paul; Olivia Esch, 12, of St. Paul; Emily Hovan, 13, of Andover; Angel Meteku, 13, of St. Paul; and Anna Lennington-Chaffee, 15, of St. Paul rehearse a scene in the upcoming 20th anniversary Circus Juventas production.

  • Letty, the parrot, will delight in the pirate scenes of “Neverland.”

  • Nick Lemieux, 16, of Eagan; Kayleen McQuillan; and Nick Dahlen, 20, Eagan are guided by instructors Risa Cohen (left) and Zhang Xu.

  • Circus Juventas

    What: “Neverland”

    Where: 1270 Montreal Av., St Paul

    When: July 31-Aug. 17

    Tickets $14-$35, through Ticketworks at or 612-343-3390 or by calling the box office at 651-699-8229.


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