By: Gabrielle Tieman | Photos: David Haskell
Sometimes, you just have to let go and live life on the edge. But nobody lives these words more thoroughly than the entertainers of Niagara Falls. Over the years, Niagara has come to be known as home to those who know no fear, boasting a rich history of acrobats, street buskers, daredevils and thrill seeking performers. And though 155 years has passed since the first stuntman successfully crossed Niagara Falls with nothing but a thin rope separating him from a 170 foot plunge into the rapids, daredevil antics continue today to test the boundaries of what most would deem impossible.
Taking a twist on the traditional venue of street performances, this summer’s busker acrobatics are taken into the sky as world renowned aerial artists invade Niagara’s skyline with death defying shows performed hundreds of feet above the famed Clifton Hill streets.
This free daredevil series put on by Zero Gravity Circus, an internationally renowned Toronto-based circus production company, the Victoria Centre BIA and Niagara Falls Tourism will showcase two separate gut dropping shows with performances running four times a day, five days a week until September 1.
The first of the two death-defying act challenges onlookers to keep their jaws off the floor as a family of circus performers tests the laws of gravity atop Victoria Avenue. The performance, put on by seventh generation daredevil and tightrope walker Enrique Valencia, his acrobatic mother Lynn and flying trapeze father Jose, features Valencia speeding a motorcycle across a three-quarter-inch wire suspended over 30 meters above Niagara streets. If this wasn’t enough, Valencia’s mother adds to the danger as she performs acrobatics on the trapeze bellow the buckling, motorcycle heavy wire.
Valencia then exchanges his motorcycle for The Wheel of Fate – a 10.6 meter revolving wheel that sits atop the 10-storey Imperial Hotel. Continually rotating above the street, the 29-year-old Texas native challenges the force of the wind as he walks along the inside and outside of the hamster-like wheel while blindfolded, skipping ropes and sometimes attempting a front flip or somersault: all without the security of a single harness or safety net.
Eli Chornenki, the creative director at Zero Gravity Circus, says that what makes their performer based company special is their widely talented roster of performers who have lead the company throughout the globe for decades performing the craziest, most unimaginable stunts – all while maintaining a perfect safety record.
“We are known for our daredevil stunts which a lot of companies will not do and we maintain a 100% safety record while doing it,” said Chornenki. “It is about trained professionals doing life threatening entertainment type stunts. It is a very specialized art form – it takes extreme sense of concentration, extreme body awareness, years of training and preparation and nerves of steel.”
Valencia, who has been performing since he was seven-years-old, has taken his acts to countless countries and credits his career to his circus performing parents who encouraged him to try anything his mind could think of. Chornenki, a performer himself, said it is performers like Valencia that keep the daredevil tradition alive while modernizing the performances to take it to the next level.
“We are very proud to carry on the tradition of daredevil stunts in the Niagara Region,” said Chornenki. “[Valencia] is a seventh generation circus performer, his whole family were circus performers, so he grew up with it and grew into it. We live to amaze people with things they won’t see every day in real time and real life. This is not a movie, it is not a TV show; it is real, death defying acts being put on for your live entertainment.”
Though Valencia’s performances are known to draw the crowds, Chornenki says the 30-minute street performances that occur before each show during warm up are just as exciting and extreme as the main event.
“The half hour warm up act on the streets features chainsaw jugglers, fire jugglers and acrobatics,” said Chornenki. “We give a modernized show but yet still hold the daredevil tradition.”
Chornenki said that though their performances are modernized and elaborate, performers still enjoy upholding the traditions that hundreds of Niagara Falls daredevils have set in the past that helped pave the way for modern street performers.
“We love being a part of Niagara Falls,” said Chornenki. “It’s steeped in the tradition of circus and a history of hundreds of years of performers – from the men going over the falls in barrels and the people walking across the falls on a tightrope. We are very proud to continue this tradition of giving people death defying daredevil stunts that you just don’t get to see every day.”
Chornenki said him and his team hope to make Summer of Thrills an annual summer event in order to continue to keep the daredevil tradition alive and changing for years to come. “We are an attraction to the Falls,” said Chornenki. “We work to keep people entertained while they are there and visiting and help bring people back to the falls year after year. We have had annual summer entertainment series that were really successful in the past, so we are hoping to make this an annual project.”
Summer of Thrills will hold four times daily shows above Victoria Avenue from 2 p.m. – 8 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday until September 1. For more information visit topofcliftonhill.com.