On Thursday afternoon, her homework done for the time being, Ysabella Wallenda, 11, was taking a turn on an improvised balance beam as Uncle Alex hovered nearby, spotting her.
Ysabella and Alex are visiting Guilford this week to perform in the Guilford Fair which started this past Friday. Along with them are about a dozen family members, some friends and co-workers, and even the family's pastor and his wife. They traveled here from their homes in Florida.
The occasion? Sure, they're here to work. But it's a great time to visit New England, they say, and so this is a family reunion too.
Ysabella, and Alex, and Tino, and Olinka, and Aurelia, and Alida, and Ermes, and Gino and ...
"That's exactly right," said Uncle Alex, naming the family members and ticking them off on his fingers. There are the Wallendas, including Tino (Ysabella's grandfather), Olinka (grandmother), Aunt Aurelia, and Ysabella's mom Alida. And then there are the cousins, including Ermes Zoppè-Zamperla and Gino Zoppè, who perform equestrian acrobatics as part of the Zoppè Cossack Riders. And then there is Pastor Jeff, and his wife, from Lakewood Christian Church in Lakewood Ranch, FL. And others as well.
They haven't had this much family (friends and co-workers are often included when they talk about "family") together for about five or six years.
Ysabella seems vaguely aware that her status as one of the world's youngest high wire artists and aerialists is a rare and interesting thing. She's been flying since she was six months old, and working on the high wire since she was about five or six years old. She was recently a featured performer in the Big Apple Circus in New York City. She is the eighth generation of The Flying Wallendas, one of the world's greatest and best known circus families, to be a circus artist.
Flying trapeze families, teeter board families, clown families ...
Sure. But, for her, being in the circus is like being on a soccer team might be for another kid. She lives in Sarasota, the circus capitol of the world. There are other flying trapeze families. There are teeter board families. There are clown families. So it's kind of cool, what she does, but not astoundingly unusual where she comes from.
When you talk with her, she talks about the work. And it's the work she loves.
What does she love about it?
She looks over at the high wire and trapeze. Then back again. Then back at the high wire and trapeze.
"Everything," she says, softly.
Facing up, floating down
Her uncle, smiling, gently reminds her to talk facing a reporter, so the reporter can hear her clearly.
She turns toward me and says she loves putting in a good performance or practice, then letting her fingers slip from the high wire apparatus and, facing up towards the sky, floating down to the safety net below, landing with a big bounce.
As her uncle introduces some of the other family members, Ysabella meanders over to the apparatus and climbs to the top, to the high wire. She swings a time or two, then lets her fingers slip and, facing up towards the sky, floats down to the safety net below, landing with a big bounce. And another. Then another. She then grasps the edge of the net, flips over and, with a flourish, hops to the ground.
Feeling lucky to be in Guilford in the fall
She stops to discuss the characteristics of the safety net, and its tension, with some family members standing by. With a toss of her stick straight brown hair, she then ambles back to a picnic table that's been set up between the trailers, where other family members are talking and eating.
Standing nearby the picnic table, Pastor Jeff, arms folded, eyes the trapeze apparatus and jokes that he'd love to climb to the top, but that his wife probably won't let him.
He says he decided to join the Wallendas on this trip because he loves spending time with the family, because it's a reunion of sorts, and because the family was coming to New England. He says he feels lucky to be in Guilford in the fall.
They look like they have a storybook life ...
"This is a place where we all like to come together," he says. "It's beautiful this time of year. I do a morning devotion with them, they do it as a family."
"These people are real," he said. "You look at them and you think they lead a storybook life, and in some ways they do. But they are real people with real lives, real needs, real hurts, and real pains. And they handle it all with real grace."
Want to see the family in action? Stop by the Guilford Fair off of Stonehouse Lane in Guilford, CT; Saturday at 1, 4, and 7pm; and Sunday at 1 and 4 pm.
For more information about the fair you can read our story that ran at the beginning of this week, another story that ran on Thursday, another story about the parade, or check out the Guilford Fair webpage at www.guilfordfair.org.