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‘Water for Elephants’ Brings the Circus to Broadway

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And it has produced an unusual camaraderie among the cast, a product of the interdependence that circus requires. (You can’t really fly through the air unless you trust the people on the ground to catch you.) “In circus, we’re a bit lawless,” Carroll said. “But we’re also really collaborative.”

There is joy in seeing a performer arc out over the audience and a heart-in-your-throat tension when an aerialist dangles by just a hand or a foot. “We have that new language, beside the acting and the dancing, to add a layer of danger, emotion, intensity,” said Alexandra Gaelle Royer, an aerialist and a member of the ensemble.

Gaelle Royer and her colleagues have taught the Broadway actors tricks. (As the ring master, Paul Alexander Nolan cracks whips; Isabelle McCalla, as the circus’s star, swings from a trapeze.) And they have learned a few things, too, such as how to sing and dance for Broadway. “There is a level of humility and grace in the company because everybody’s a little bit out of their lane,” Stone said. “And then at some point, every single person is right in their lane and able to just nail what they do best.”

When it comes to the circus acts, that best includes juggling, silks, aerial hoops, a giant Cyr wheel, tight wire, knife throwing, a unicycle and many acrobatic turns. Some routines are faithful to the circus of the 1930s, but dream sequences and abstractions like the death of the horse push toward the present. Even at a rehearsal — with an understudy in the lead, the cast in their street clothes, some of the rigging missing and harsh work lights shining — the tricks could still exhilarate. And the creators hope that they can do more: transform “Water for Elephants” into something beyond the paler things, making it feel real.

“We feel it on some base level that these people are really risking their lives for us,” Carroll said of the performers. “That’s really profound and beautiful.”

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