By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
As owner of the Moody Street Circus in Waltham with his wife Melinda Pavlata, Alexandre “Sacha” Pavlata is continuing a long tradition of teaching circus arts to a new generation. As a fifth-generation Czech circus artist, aerialist and world-renowned circus arts teacher, he certainly has the credentials to do so.
But there is something else that Pavlata offers to his students other than just an impressive resume – he brings a determination to help young people realize, through their mastering of things such as acrobatics, and specialized equipment like unicycles, trapezes, silks and cloud swings, that they, too, have what it takes to conquer new challenges. And in doing so, they can, he believes, prove to themselves that they are stronger than they realize.
Born into the circus life
Pavlata’s life in circus began in 1949 where he was born into a family where circus was not just a way of life; it was life. His mother, Hungarian-born Anna Dubsky, came from a long line of Risley Act performers (the acrobatic foot juggling of people), and his father, Czech-born Karl Pavlata, descended from a family of aerialists known for their great physical strength and versatility in the air.
Along with his family, the young Sacha and his siblings crisscrossed the country, as well as all throughout Europe, Russia and North Africa, stopping in different towns to perform.
“My first memory is just doing this all for fun,” he recalled. “The performing with my family was just something to be very proud to be doing. It’s your identity – being part of the [circus] family.”
Along the way, the children would enroll in different schools wherever the circus was set up.
The family entertained audiences with their shows that included unicycles, trampolines and comedy acts. The young Sacha learned to do it all.
Along the way he also learned the craft of setting up big tops that, although not as flashy as performing, is a critical skill necessary for the safety of a circus’s performers.
Teacher and performer
After the fall of the former Czechoslovakia, Pavlata and family moved to Paris. There he was on the faculty of the École Nationale du Cirque and taught at the Conservatoire National du Cirque from 1975-1979. He also performed as a member of the Bertini Unicycle Troupe with Cirque Bouglione, a famous French circus.
After moving to the United States, he was associated with the New York City-based Big Apple Circus in the 1980s, performing on the cloud swing and as part of a Russian Barre act. He also was a master teacher for the New York School of Circus Arts.
In 1998, Pavlata joined the flying Wallenda family to help them create their famous seven-person pyramid on the high wire. He continued to perform with them in venues around the world.
He also served as a consultant for Cirque du Soleil’s first season.
Bringing circus skills to television and movies
In the 1980s, Pavlata trained the cast of the original Broadway production of “Barnum” teaching circus skills to the show’s stars. Coming from behind the scenes, he was also featured in two major movies, “Annie” and “Big Top Pee Wee.”
Moody Street Circus
Together with his wife Melinda, Sacha imported a circus tent in 2005 and they created the Cirque Passion. In 2009 their dream of their own school was realized when they opened the Moody Street Circus in Waltham.
A warm, bright spot tucked away on the second floor of a building on busy Moody Street, the studio is set up for small groups of students. There the couple trains students of all ages, but mostly school age, in circus arts such as acrobatics, silks, ropes and other apparatus. Often Sacha, when he is not offering support and encouragement to the youngsters, will demonstrate his skills on the cloud swing, which is like a large suspended hula hoop. There he shows off skills of incredible strength, swinging and balancing.
Throughout the years, the Pavlatas have produced shows and performed for causes dear to their hearts, such as ALS, and community benefits. He often performs with Melinda and her daughter Zoë, both women who are also talented circus performers themselves.
A full circle
Pavlata was interviewed for a book by Bill Smoot published by Indiana University Press entitled “Conversations with Great Teachers.”
He was asked, “What effect does the two weeks (of circus arts camp) have on the children?”
In part, he noted, “My classes have become so popular because it’s challenging for the kids. They like to be challenged… When their parents come to pick them up, they [the kids] want to stay… They are happy, and they have such confidence. We have lunch, and sitting around me, they ask me questions: Where you come from? What have you done? And of course, I give them all the stories, how I grew up – because I’m five generations in the circus world.
“There is a magical change in them. There is a joy – it’s just fantastic.”
For both Pavlatas, teaching circus to others is a full circle.
“We really try to have a truly personal approach, ensuring that our students really want to learn and are in it for the love of it, as we are,” Melinda said. “It’s a very heartfelt approach.”
“It has the power to change lives,” Sacha said. “It’s an honor.”
For more on the Moody Street Circus, visit www.moodystreetcircus.com.