Alter Circus is a feminist company, which uses contemporary circus, dance, and performance as vehicles to challenge gender norms and celebrate the rebellious spirit, strength, and grace of women. Alter Circus rejects narrative structure as a primary humanizing device and uses the human body as text and feminism as the lens to explore power, gender, and sexuality.
The word ‘sin’ is derived from the Indo-European root ‘es-,’ meaning ‘to be.’ When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a [person] trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, ‘to be’ in the fullest sense is ‘to sin.’ – Mary Daly
Photography by Brynne Levy.
Meet the Company
Jessica John, Founder, Artistic & Managing Director, Artist (Fabric & Duo Dance Trapeze)
An ardent movement researcher, Jessica John was a competitive athlete and dancer before finding a passion for circus in 2009. In 2017, after the 2016 US presidential election, she left a career as an intelligence officer with the CIA to pursue directing, performing, and coaching circus full-time. A corde lisse, fabric, and dance trapeze specialist, Jessica’s mentors have included Rachel Walker, Brandy Leary, Emiliano Ron, and Leo Hedman. As a director, Jessica’s work is post-modern and challenges gender norms through displays of virtuosity and vulnerability. Her directing credits include: Steal A Step’s Kick Before You Drown; Vaudoux Aerial Dance Theatre’s Hall of Mirrors, Adrift, and Gris; and (a sprout story). She has a BA from the University of Colorado at Boulder, an MA from George Washington University, and a JD from Boston University.
Althea Young, Assistant Director & Choreographer for Hysterical
Although only 19, Althea Young is a lifelong circus artist. She was introduced to circus at the age of three and started performing professionally at the age of eight. With more than a decade and a half of training and performing under her belt, she has dedicated her formative years to working with companies including Flynn Creek Circus, AcroSanct, and Acrobatic Conundrum. She is a graduate of Kinetic Art Center’s Circus Spire Youth Troupe. She is also a teacher, performer, and leadership scholarship recipient at the American Youth Circus Organization and American Circus Educators. Althea has facilitated workshops on gender in circus and has taught at conferences across the world. She is currently a performance-maker attending the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland working toward a Bachelor of Arts Honors degree in Contemporary Performance Practice. Althea intends to pursue a career in writing and directing.
Natalie Abell, Artist (Hula Hoop & Handbalancing)
A natural mover, Natalie Abell was swinging from a bar before she could walk. A multifaceted athlete and artist with a background in gymnastics and singing, Natalie specializes in acrobatics, handbalancing, hula hooping, and corde lisse and is based out of Chicago. Her desire to connect and penchant for innovation draws her to teaching and helping others find and build their own strength and artistry. Explosive power balanced with finesse and thoughtful expansion of boundaries exemplify Natalie’s artistic work and life philosophy.
Katie Embser, Artist (Lyra)
A business and studio art double major at the University of Maryland, Katie Embser has trained corde lisse, dance trapeze, lyra, and strap loop since 2011 under the coaching of Alter Circus’s artistic director, Jessica John, where she has found a passion for spinning. Katie works at the Trapeze School of New York in Washington, DC. She has performed professionally in Steal A Step’s Kick Before You Drown and as a pre-professional in Vaudoux Aerial Dance Theatre’s Hall of Mirrors, Adrift, Gris, and Away.
Megan Gendell, Artist (Handbalancing)
Megan Gendell has performed circus professionally in NYC and around the world since 2007, starting out with the Brooklyn ensemble LAVA and currently performing solo handbalancing and duo trapeze nationally and internationally, including at the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival and the Golden Karl international circus festival in Riga, Latvia. She is a 2012 graduate of the New England Center Circus Art’s Professional-Track Training Program, and in 2014 she co-created an evening-length ensemble circus-theater show, Tinder & Ash, in Montreal through a TOHU residency.
Tyler Jacobson, Artist (Dance Trapeze)
Tyler Jacobson grew up in the Great Y Circus before running off to college. After completing bachelor’s degrees in English and Spanish at Walla Walla University in 2015, he promptly ran straight back to the circus. While training with Kinetic Theory Circus Arts, he was recruited by the 2017 national tour of Pippin for his multidisciplinarity as a handbalancer, contortionist, aerialist, acrobat, and object manipulator. He performs around southern California at events such as Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor while pursuing an MA in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University.
Georgeanna Layton, Artist (Corde Lisse)
Georgeanna Layton is a corde lisse artist, mother of two, and a grandmother of three living in Kansas City. Beginning her training in silks and lyra at the age of 50, she was formally introduced to corde lisse in January 2016. She can neither knit, bake, nor keep houseplants alive, but can tell a hell of a story after 58 revolutions around the sun. Dividing her time between training and spending time on a family-run an organic farm being entertained by her grandchildren, Georgeanna travels routinely to train with Emiliano Ron, Alex Allan, Gabriel Tramullas, and Jason Mejias. She performs and choreographs regularly in the Kansas City area with Kansas City Aerial Arts. Two things saved Georgeanna—love of family and rope. To her, a rope is not just a rope and a circus is not just a circus.
Brynne Levy, Artist (Aerial Pole & Duo Dance Trapeze)
Brynne Levy is an aerialist and fine art photographer based in NYC. She has been a core instructor at Sweet Water Dance & Yoga (NYC), City Pole Tribeca (NYC), and The Phoenix Dance Studio (Charlottesville, VA). She is a graduate of the Work Study Program at Body & Pole (NYC) and currently works at House of Yes, a creative collective and nightlife performance space in Brooklyn. She was a finalist in Pole Fusion Brussels (2016), a PSO Atlantic Pole Level 4 Champion (2013), and 1st Place winner in Candy & Chrome (2012). Brynne has a background in Behavioral Neuroscience and a degree from The University of Virginia in Studies in Women, Gender, & Sexuality. Through her photography, she actively works to reject the concept of female fragility and the victimization of the feminine. She was honored to collaborate with Jessica John earlier this year to create the conceptual images promoting the first showing of Hysterical in Washington, DC, and she is now thrilled to be part the cast.
Former Artists, Collaborators, and Choreographers
Stacey Carlson, Gwynne Flanagan, Thomas Martin, Zoe Zou Stasko, Wondercabinet Weshinskey