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Aerialists Nicolo Kehrwald and Jacki Ward join show coming to Portland



COURTESY: BIANCA MCCARTY PHOTOGRAPHY - Jacki Ward and Nicolo Kehrwald, a married couple and longtime Portland circus arts performers, enjoy their experience with Cavalia's 'Odysseo,' which includes an aerial hoop duo act in 'The Storm' segment (above).The stars are the horses for Cavalia’s “Odysseo,” an epic, $30 million show to be held under the White Big Top at Zidell Yards, starting July 7.

But the humans are pretty entertaining, too, what with founder Normand Latourelle really excited about a troupe from Guinea in West Africa, and riders and acrobats and aerialists galore. Among them are two longtime Portland residents, aerialists Nicolo Kehrwald and Jacki Ward — yes, they’re married, young, athletic and enjoying life as part of the extremely popular “Odysseo.”

“It’s the biggest touring show in the world, and it’s incredible to be part of that,” Ward says. “It feels like a dream come true. We worked hard to get on something like that.”

They just started with “Odysseo” three months ago, performing in Irvine, Calif., and Salt Lake City. And their next stop will be home.

“We’re really excited that we’re getting to go home right away and show everybody the show,” Kehrwald adds. They live on tour, but they have families in Portland and still call it home.

For “Odysseo,” the husband and wife perform a duo hoop number during a storm sequence, and then perform during an element involving a very large carousel and Chinese pole. And they

have other parts throughout the long and entertaining show, including a scene with horses.

A Portland native, Ward, 28, attended schools in the Beaverton School District, took gymnastics and theater at an early age and graduated from Sunset High School. Originally a contortionist and hand balancer, she branched out to aerials — duo straps and lyra. She has taught circus arts in Portland, and conducted clinics and studied abroad.

Born in Spokane, Wash., Kehrwald, 34, attended Buckman Elementary School for its arts, Jefferson High School for one year, and then Pacific Crest Community School. He studied dance, and then circus arts — hand balancing, floor acrobatics, trapeze, hoop, strap, Chinese pole and more. He studied abroad, while also performing with Do Jump! locally

for 12 years — Ward and Kehrwald met while working with Do Jump!

“When we met, we decided we wanted to create a duo act together,” Kehrwald says. “We auditioned for ‘Odysseo’ about two years ago when they were looking for people. They were in Seattle at the time.

“We got on the list, and when they needed people they contacted us.”

Ward and Kehrwald married about two years ago, about the time they first auditioned for “Odysseo.”

“Odysseo” uses some 65 horses, a large video screen and an even larger stage, and a real (man-made) mountain and a 40,000-gallon lake at the end. Just the sheer enormity of the logistics and production are impressive, Kehrwald says.

“The tent is gigantic, it’s like a village,” he says.

Cavalia performed to sold-out shows in 2011 here, and “Odysseo” is twice as big. It’ll be quite a bit more spectacular, Latourelle promises.

COURTESY: BIANCA MCCARTY PHOTOGRAPHY - During the 'Carosello' scene in 'Odysseo,' Jacki Ward and Nicolo Kehrwald work with a large carousel and Chinese pole.The Portland couple’s featured act takes place during “The Storm” sequence. “We fly up into the sky and take part in this dramatic energy,” Kehrwald says. “There are eight other people on stage, spinning around and flying in the air.”

They perform on Chinese pole in the “Carosello” number with a huge carousel. Both of them do have involvement with horses, including during the “Liberty” scene in which there are 30 horses paired with riders, acrobats and aerialists.

“In the middle of the show it can be kind of stressful and I’ll be focused on my acrobatics, and I have to go get this horse,” Kehrwald says. “I feel like I have to be calm so he can be calm, it’s this grounding moment.”

His horse’s name is Intrepido.

His wife’s horse’s name is Frosty.

“It’s true what they say about the powerful relationship between humans and horses,” Ward says. “I remember being shocked about my horse, that he knew the choreography better than I did. He knew when to run and stop.

“We are building a relationship, we’re more comfortable. We snuggle.”

The couple enjoys the interaction with other performers, and the guidance of choreographer Darren Charles and lead coach Sam Alvarez.

“It’s different to be around professionals, and we do learn a lot from our peers and coach,” Kehrwald says.

Adds Ward: “It was a heavy integration process. All the acrobats have years of training, but we had to do two months of specific training; for example, the Chinese pole number is very technically demanding.”

It’s what they’ve always wanted to do, be involved with such a high-level show.

“Portland has a thriving theater, acrobats and circus scene,” Ward says. “I’m inspired by the local performance scene in Portland. There’s a lot of action and energy happening there. It’s a different lifestyle getting on a big show like this.”

For more on the duo, go to www.jackiandnicolo.com. For more on “Odysseo,” see www.cavalia.net.

The Tribune will have more on Cavalia’s “Odysseo” in Thursday’s edition.

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