An interview with Heather Iriye by Derek Carney
When Heather 'Sora Sol' Iriye told her friends and family that she was running away to join the circus, they probably thought she was simply clowning around.
Iriye, 25, recently returned to Cleveland from a season-long, 26-city tour throughout the United Kingdom with Festival Circus. She was also fortunate enough to be cast in the Zippos Circus show, where Iriye's principle feats include acrobatic maneuvers on large draperies of silk, the duo trapeze, and the web rope.
It was two years ago in December when Iriye was sitting at her office job desk contemplating the negative affects of working her nine to five job. “This surely wasn't what I was supposed to be doing with the rest of my life,” said Iriye. “So I went online and typed in ‘circus school’ into Google. The rest is history.”
After submitting an inquiry to the circus school, she received her application. She filled out the form and sent it back. After news arrived of her acceptance, she took a plane to New York City for an audition. “Being an international school, there were applications coming in from all over the world. 15 of us were selected for the program,” said Iriye.
There are no training wheels at circus school. The students begin performing in a professional circus starting on the first day. They train from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on days when the circus isn’t either moving from one city to another or setting up and pulling down the tent. Iriye and some of her classmates chose to practice their routines until midnight or later. “We would perform anywhere from 10 to 15 shows per weekend. It was intense. I received training in everything from hand-balancing to vaulting to aerial arts of all kinds to [working with] hula hoops,” said Iriye.
Iriye met plenty of interesting and unique people from all over the world while learning the circus arts. Two of Iriye’s instructors, Zorig and Zaya, are from Mongolia. Zorig worked with the males on their aerials and hand-balancing, while Zaya taught mostly contortion, but jumped in on hand-balancing occasionally.
“There was a lovely British woman, Steph, who taught me hula hoops while I kicked and screamed all the way. She also instructed me in silks,” said Iriye. “We had a dance teacher who was the picturesque 1940s pin-up girl and as bubbly as they come.”
She and her roommate collaborated on a duo trapeze act, eventually becoming the "Zimbi Sisters." Another close friend was Carola, a gorgeous Deaf Norwegian contortionist. “Some people just make you sick because they're so amazing,” said Iriya. “She's one of those people and I have so much love for her. There was also an angry Canadian juggler, two clown Scottsmen who drank much and were infectious in their laughter, and a flamboyant glittery male British aerialist.”
Iriye said she had a love-hate relationship with England. She disliked the constant absence of sunshine and the rain that seemed to never stop, but she loved the people and their accents. Iriye said, “I was horridly introduced to haggis and black pudding.”
Iriye was introduced to professional dancing after relocating from Arizona to Cleveland in 2005 for an internship with the United Church of Christ. A quarter-way through the internship, she decided to abandon organized religion completely to pursue her own spiritual quest.
It was during that transitional period that Iriye discovered the Sub-atomic Frequency Modulation Overdose Performance Ensemble: a collective of traditional, modern, and break-dancers, aerialists, stilt-walkers, graffiti artists, visual artists, and musicians. The ensemble performed at Ingenuity Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Cleveland Public Theater among others. SAFMOD is currently on hiatus following the tragic loss of dancer and creative director Zoe Shultz to cancer in 2006.
“First and foremost, Zoe taught me worlds on what it means to love unconditionally. The way she related to me and to those around her often brought me to tears of gratitude for her friendship,” said Iriye. “Performing with SAMFOD was an invaluable experience for me. It opened my eyes to making art as a collective and creating outside of the box. It made me grow on so many levels: spiritually, physically, professionally.”
When asked which discipline she prefers- aerial work or dance, Heather said, “When I'm in the air, I feel graceful and untouchable. That being said, I will always be a dancer at heart.” She added, “Optimally, I would like to make a positive impact on humanity using performing arts, mainly circus, as a means of widely spreading peace, love, and respect. Beyond that, the sky's the limit.”
Sora Sol promotional and performance videos: