Erica Saben, who is bringing her show, “Cultivate,” to Germantown for two shows this Sunday, is such a die-hard circus performer that she even wants to get her dog in on the act.

by Rita Charleston

She was still quite young when she decided to follow her dreams. And today, living out those dreams, Erica Saben, who has been a student of movement her whole life and is the founder and director of Charm City Movement Arts (CCMA, the circus school of Baltimore), brings her group to the Funicular Station, 416 W. Coulter St. in Germantown on Sept. 8 for two shows at 3 and 7 p.m. as part of the annual Fringe Arts Festival.

The show, called “Cultivate,” tells the story of a small circus group who have been given permission to explore the abstract. “Cultivate” by Cirque Du Charme uses theatrical circus to follow the adventure of a little man who, after getting bored under his apple tree, goes on a journey that takes him far beyond anything he has ever experienced.

“In the show we’re concentrating on a group of European travelers who have found their way to Philadelphia, the land of freedom,” said Saben. “The show has a 1930s look and feel, and will be using the talents of aerialists, jugglers, tightrope walkers and puppeteers, all of whom are professional in their field, with a lot of them based right here in Philadelphia.”

According to 30-year-old Saben, the show’s title refers to cultivating new ideas. Originally performed last month in Baltimore, Saben is proud to help advance circus as an art form through this production. The 60-minute performance showcases the entertaining and contemporary style of circus developed in Paris, France. In the past, the cast has performed with such groups as Cirque Du Soleil, Bread and Puppet Theatre, The Give and Take Juggler and others.

Saben’s stage career began at the age of 12 performing as a trombone player with the Sugar and Jazz orchestra in Buffalo, NY. She later went on to acquire a BS in Dance and Political Science from SUNY Brockport as well as a graduate degree in Caribbean Dance and Culture from Edna Manley College in Kingston Jamaica.

She began her own circus career by accident when she was spotted on stage at the Academy of Music by Give and Take Jugglers. Invited to join their touring show, she later was introduced to Shana Kennedy, director of the five-year-old Philadelphia School of Circus Arts in Germantown, where Saben has taught and where several performers in the show still live and train.

“Today, the idea of us all getting together to do this particular show is to put as many of us as possible into one show and promote what we do,” Saben said. “We opened in Baltimore and were a huge success.”

Saben is looking forward to the same kind of response in Philly as part of the Fringe Festival. “Our show is not your typical Fringe fare,” she insisted. “Ours is a high skill level show with a lot of phenomenal stuff going on from all over, although you won’t know what you’re getting until you walk in to see it. And then you’ll be absolutely amazed.”

Saben, who now resides in San Francisco, where she is working to establish a West Coast wire walking community, remains heavily involved with CCMA and continues to perform with the Give and Take Jugglers when she’s able to. At the Fringe she’ll be doing some tightrope walking and playing some brass instruments, as well as some clowning.

“But for now I’m happy just to step back from being on stage so much and let other people shine,” Saben said. “Today we’re working on submitting the show to various festivals and fringe shows around the country. We’re not sure where the show goes from here. But we do know it’ll keep going.”

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