Emerging Stars to Keep Your Eyes on: Spotlight on Aerialist Kalista Russell - StageLync
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Emerging Stars to Keep Your Eyes on: Spotlight on Aerialist Kalista Russell

After another successful year, the VIVA Fest has helped send more young circus artists on to their next stages… including CircusTalk Spotlight winner Kalista Russell.  Let’s get to know this French-American aerialist and her creative drives—as well as highlight the emerging artist standouts!

The fifth edition of the VIVA Fest unfolded from March 15 through 19, 2023, and saw more great young artists take the stage in Las Vegas than ever before. Created to help aspiring performers get new eyes from within the industry on their work, the VIVA Fest aims to provide its competitors with a venue and platform on which to reach for the stars and garner recognition. On the VIVA stage, young international artists, ranging from circus school students to new alumni emerging from the studio, can push themselves and showcase their creations on the eye level of talent scouts and producers from around the globe. And all they have to do is get up there—and bring their very best!

Aerialist Kalista Russell trains on an outdoor lyra hoop
Kalista Russell

Needless to say, this was the case for multitalented aerialist and NECCA grad Kalista Russell, who has attended the VIVA Fest nearly since the event’s inception. Following the circus path since childhood, the ever-driven Kalista has picked up skills in numerous aerial disciplines over the years, with corde lisse, straps, and Lyra all under her belt. But it was her creative hoop act, “The Curse,” that earned her first place in the Emerging Aerial Hoop category at VIVA 2023, as well as our CircusTalk Spotlight award, given to an emerging artist whose work demonstrates courageous expression and whose performance is lauded for its social relevance, artistic and technical acumen, and audience engagement. 

As an artist, Kalista is one of those who soaks up different creative influences like a sponge. She never turns down the opportunity to do the things she loves… or to reveal her passions to the world.

We caught up with Kalista recently to learn more about her art, her VIVA act, and her visions of where the circus path will take her.

Carolyn Klein (CK): Let’s start by delving into your circus background. How did you get your start with performing on aerial hoop?

Kallista Russell (KR): I started performing on aerial hoop when I was 10 years old! I was attending a circus summer camp, which quickly turned into me taking weekly classes before I joined the Les Aerielles youth troupe at Trapeze Arts in Oakland, California. There, I practiced all forms of aerial from trapeze to fabric to rope, but it became pretty apparent over the years that hoop was my favorite! I continued training all throughout my middle school and high school years until I was accepted into the NECCA ProTrack program as an aerial hoop major.

Aerial hoop performer Kalista Russell holds one ankle as she hangs onto the Lyra one-handed

CK: We’d love to hear about your VIVA Fest experience. What brought you to the VIVA Fest, and what was it like being in Las Vegas?

KR: I actually started attending VIVA Fest back in 2018 and 2019 when we were still performing in the tent! Competition has always been something that I’ve taken as a chance to push myself to grow and improve, so VIVA Fest felt like the perfect opportunity. 

It had been a long while since I’d been back, and it was really amazing to see how big the festival has gotten. Circus communities from all over the world are convening in Las Vegas for this, and it’s great being able to see how different parts of the world create such unique and diverse acts!

CK: Describe your festival act for us. What was it like? What was your inspiration for the act? And who were your trainers and coaches?

KR: My act is admittedly very hard to describe. It’s a combination of darker, sneaky elements with a character that can’t help herself in drawing the audience into her web of intrigue. I took inspiration from a multitude of morally grey characters in pop culture who I felt have a magnetic quality towards those they surround themselves with. Essentially, I wanted to build a number that people couldn’t help but keep their eyes on. This was something that I conceptualized with the help of my partner, who had unending patience as I listened to the music on repeat for hours at a time, but the choreography and composition of the act were something I created by myself over the months leading up to the festival. 

CK: How did it feel to win two major prizes at the festival?

KR: Amazing! I really had no expectations for how well I’d do given all the talent that would be in attendance this year, and I was already thrilled to receive first in my category! When my name was called for the CircusTalk award, I was stunned and so, so grateful that my act was recognized for an award that went beyond my category. It’s incredibly validating to know that all of the effort and time I’ve poured into my art are being noticed.

Aerialist Kalista Russell hangs from an aerial hoop by just her chin

CK: On your CircusTalk profile, you mention that you enjoy incorporating “musical artistry” into your performances. Can you expand on what this means and how you incorporate musicality into your work?

KR: I define musical artistry as the very tangible connection between music, movement, and character. All three of these elements are incredibly intertwined and don’t exist without the others when I make my numbers. The songs I choose give me a feel and character to play which then informs the quality of movement that I need to embody. Not to mention how musical timing is essential in creating a piece that is intriguing to watch from start to finish. Overall, musicality is one of the biggest elements I play with in my numbers and it’s something that I find incredibly fun when I’m putting all of the choreography together!

CK: What are your biggest goals for yourself—both as an artist and a person generally?

KR: Overall, I want to create pieces that are artistically gratifying for myself as well as my audience. There’s nothing more satisfying than making an act that you can look back on and feel proud of. Proud of the skills you worked on, the time and effort you put into it, and the pieces of your heart and mind that you dedicated towards the art you created. I would love nothing more than to be able to create as a profession, whether that be my personal acts that I’m able to put on stage, or an overall production that combines the many diverse minds of its performers. Being able to share my creations is my passion, and I believe I’m headed in the right direction.

CK: Where do you see yourself in your career a decade from now?

KR: Such a tough question! It’s so hard to see what the future holds, especially when the circus world is constantly shifting and evolving. In the end, a decade from now, I hope to still be pouring myself into this art form that I love so much. I hope to be putting myself on stage for grander audiences with shows that live and breathe contemporary art as well as putting my own ideas on stage for an ensemble to bring to life. I hope that my creation has become my profession and that my passions keep driving me forward.

We very much hope the same for you, Kalista! 

Aerialist Kalista Russell performs a back-bend in a Lyra aerial hoop
Kalista

While we’re here, let’s not forget some of Kalista’s fellow awesome emerging artists who took the stage in Vegas and came out on top of their respective categories. Congrats to all the following winners:

The VIVA Fest’s 2023 Emerging Stars

Emy Guyard, Michelle Pawlisz, and Jocelyn Hunt—Aerial Duo+

Kalista Russell—Aerial Hoop

Abigail Koetting—Aerial Loop/Hammock

Storm Hovan—Aerial Other, Dance Trapeze, and Ground Act Cyr Wheel

Jeremy Cifonie—Aerial Rope

Julian Mctaggart—Straps

Joel Castro—Aerial Tissue Solo

Aleena Serdyukova—Cortortion Solo

Ruben Renaranda, Ali Bottari, Seth Ingram, Justin Mccormac, and Avery Gunnell—Ground Group Act

Mariah Fraker—Ground Act Solo

Hiraku Fujii—Ground Manipulation

Veronika Mykhailova—Hand Balance Solo

James Heugh and Nathan Tsuji—Hand Balance Duo

Complete Winner List click here

With the circus and variety arts world’s eyes on them, these artists rose to the occasion. We can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they will be part of in the future.

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Images shared by Kalista Russell. Main image: Kalista at the VIVA Fest.
Carolyn Klein
Content Writer -United States
Carolyn Klein is a writer, poet, and circus fan from the Washington, D.C, area. Writing stories about the circus has been a dream of hers since getting introduced to circus fiction around 2014. She recently completed her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, magna cum laude, at George Mason University. As a new member of the Circus Talk journalism team, Carolyn looks forward to learning as much as she can about the industry and people behind circus.

Editor's Note: At StageLync, an international platform for the performing arts, we celebrate the diversity of our writers' backgrounds. We recognize and support their choice to use either American or British English in their articles, respecting their individual preferences and origins. This policy allows us to embrace a wide range of linguistic expressions, enriching our content and reflecting the global nature of our community.

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Carolyn Klein

Carolyn Klein is a writer, poet, and circus fan from the Washington, D.C, area. Writing stories about the circus has been a dream of hers since getting introduced to circus fiction around 2014. She recently completed her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, magna cum laude, at George Mason University. As a new member of the Circus Talk journalism team, Carolyn looks forward to learning as much as she can about the industry and people behind circus.