Bindlestiff Family Cirkus performs at VPAC Tuesday |

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus performs at VPAC Tuesday

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus reflects the heyday of the historical American circus, offering an artistic and often weird twist to entertainment.
Maike Schulz/Courtesy photo
  • What: Bindlestiff Family Cirkus
  • When: 6:30 p.m. today
  • Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek
  • Tickets: Starting at $35; children, $28

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus brings its magic to the Vilar stage Tuesday as artists perform stunning feats.

“One of the beauties of Bindlestiff is that we pull from a variety of traditions and cultures and art forms and combine them into one beautiful, 90-minute moment,” said co-founder Keith Nelson, adding that every few minutes, audiences see a new act whose origins can range anywhere from indigenous cultures (in this case, hoop dancing) to South American or Eastern Asian entertainment.

For two decades, the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus has traveled worldwide, presenting a unique hybrid of vaudeville, circus and sideshow spectacles, from jugglers, acrobats and contortionists to plate spinners, sword swallowers and brain twisters.

It all began when Nelson’s best friend in college taught him how to juggle. From there, he ended up trading a bottle of whiskey for a fire-eating lesson. After honing his skills in college, he moved to New York City to work in a cabaret eating fire. That’s when he realized he could make a living performing, and “I haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus co-founder, Keith Nelson talks to Tricia Swenson on “Vail Valley Live.”

He met his wife and Bindlestiff Family Cirkus co-founder Stephanie Monseu more than 30 years ago, when they worked together in an all-night diner. He taught her how to eat fire, and the duo started a variety show. They gathered a host of other performers during weekly open mics, and ultimately decided to take their troupe on the road, naming it after hobos who carry their wares in a bundle held by a stick.

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“In the earliest days, we were literally jumping on trains with one bag of costumes and one bag of fire-eating equipment,” Nelson said, as he continued to explain where the name originated. “We’re a family by choice. We definitely feel like a family and care for each other that way.”

While the performance showcases fire eating and sword swallowing, it also includes acts like Garrett Allen standing on his hands on chairs stacked 20 feet high, contortionist Andrea Murillo dangling in mid-air, suspended solely by her hair and Kyle Driggs of NYC’s 3AM Theatre tossing and juggling canes and umbrellas in a dance with gravity. And, of course, it includes audience members, one of whom might get to pull a sword out of Nelson once he swallows it.

“We want the audience to be much more engaged as we pay tribute to historical American entertainment through the vaudeville element,” he said.

Based in Hudson and Brooklyn, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus reflects the heyday of the historical American circus, which toured the nation by caravan, offering an artistic and often weird twist to entertainment.

“The circle, the circus, is the original theatric form. It (represents) the earliest moments of people coming together to be entertained,” Nelson said, adding that it’s important to support circuses because it highlights the difficult feats that humans are capable of doing. “By our existence, we show that the impossible is possible. It’s a show that brings joy and wonder and understanding to audiences.”

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