Dustin Cottrell and his younger sister Corey Cheval grew up playing music together. While he stayed on the path to music, his sister eventually diverged into dance and circus arts.
To reignite the harmony they once had in their youth, the sibling duo united their interests in 2016 to feature circuses in Gainesville, their hometown.
Residents and visitors have the opportunity to see their talents Friday night and Saturday afternoon in Dusty’s Ragtime Circus, a variety show held by the Gainesville Circus Center with live music, dance, acrobatic performances and other traditional and contemporary circus acts.
The show was co-produced by Cottrell, a 41-year-old musician and Dusty’s Ragtime & Novelties founder, and Cheval, the 39-year-old founder and executive director of the Gainesville Circus Center.
“I feel blessed that I have that opportunity not just to create art with someone great — but that he’s also my brother,” Cheval said.
The duo has brought the life of circus beyond Gainesville and across the U.S., to cities like Atlanta and St. Louis, Missouri.
Liz Bouton, a 31-year-old cast member of Dusty’s Ragtime Circus, joined the Gainesville Circus Center and the circus cast to satisfy her undying passion for dance after deciding to pursue a career not in the performing arts, she said. She’s an associate engineer at Foghorn Consulting, Inc., a cloud consulting company.
While Bouton doesn’t plan on performing full time, she said, it’s something she’s always found fun.
“This is hard work,” Bouton said. “And we can make this hard work look beautiful.”
Cast members like Bouton, Cheval and Cottrell have their own personas in the show, Bouton said.
Bouton will play Lizzie Liberty, a character who captures the liveliness of the U.S., and perform a lyra act — or an act on a hoop in the air — to “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, she said.
Chavel will play Madam Chavel, the boss clown who keeps all the characters in check, Cottrell said, which does justice to Chavel’s strong presence even when not in character.
Cottrell will play Professor Dusty Bottoms, a salesman who’s passionate about music, he said. Cottrell’s character will play ragtime covers — reminiscent of late 19th century and early 20th century music — of modern pop songs, he said.
The circus cast has performed covers of songs like “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift and "Oops!... I Did It Again" by Britney Spears in the past.
Like Professor Dusty Bottoms, Cottrell’s passionate about his music career, he said.
“Writing music is the most therapeutic thing ever,” he said. “It’s just a brilliant medium for expressing yourself.”
The circus’s musical and visual elements can appeal to all ages, Cottrell said, which can help to bring the Gainesville community — a place filled with children, college students and seniors — together.
“Performing arts are the heart and soul of a community,” Cheval said. “It’s where individuals are able to reinterpret lived experience and share it through movement and sound.”
Circus arts have been historically inaccessible because they’ve primarily been a family-based tradition or taught in conservatory-style settings, she said.
To make circus arts education more accessible in northern Florida, Cheval offers classes to anyone in the community at Gainesville Circus Center.
Bouton, a coach at the center, hopes to inspire people to take a class or gain interest in circus arts by attending Dusty’s Ragtime Circus, she said.
The circus is an opportunity for people to see and do something fun and different, Cottrell said.
“There’s nothing like [the circus] going on this weekend,” he said.
Dusty’s Ragtime Circus will hold a show Friday at 7 p.m. and another show Saturday at 12 p.m. Tickets are available to purchase online.
Contact Zarin Ismail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @zarintismail.
Zarin Ismail is a second-year journalism major and a staff writer for the Avenue. She has previously worked as a copy editor for The Alligator. She's also a writer for Strike Magazine. When she’s not writing, Zarin watches international TV shows, shops at thrift stores and plays with her two cats.