The Russell House Ballroom hosted “Cirque de USC” on Sept. 19, an event featuring The Great DuBois, a variety circus act that included juggling phenom Michael DuBois and his contortionist wife Viktoria Grimmy.
The Great DuBois call themselves "the most unique two-person circus show," showcasing a variety of practiced stunts and athletic feats. The event was hosted by the Russell House and put on by Carolina Productions.
DuBois and Grimmy travel across the United States to perform their hour-long circus act at colleges, theaters, fairs and festivals.
“Universities have a close place in my heart just because I sort of started my career there. I’ve done something like 2,500 different college shows some many, many, many times," DuBois said. "I think it really taught me how to be a good performer because people aren’t paying to be there."
Once the head of Penn State’s juggling club, DuBois began his career performing solo in New York where he juggled and joked his way into appearances on late-night shows, such as "The Jay Leno Show" and the "Late Show with David Letterman," according to SOPAC.
As for Grimmy, she was born to a Russian family and is a fifth-generation performance artist. Before fleeing Russia to join the United States' "Ringling Brothers Circus," their "Soviet Circus" act was well known, according to Inside Hook.
In 2013, Grimmy landed a performing role in Broadway’s Tony Award-winning "Pippin" revival. Two years later, she began performing live with DuBois.
Now married, the couple performs at hundreds of events annually. They carry a 72-foot tent for events held outdoors that they put up themselves.
“For me, that’s the only way to make it sustainable financially, is to do it all yourself,” DuBois said.
The duo of DuBois and Grimmy recently had a role in the 2017 film "The Greatest Showman," one of the highest-grossing musical films of all time.
Their careers have always been centered around live performances, so the opportunity to appear as actors alongside Hugh Jackman was uncharted territory, DuBois said.
"Viktoria and I got to do it together. You know, a major motion picture was made about circus," DuBois said. "To be able to be part of something so big, and actually shot in Brooklyn where we live ... it was a nice combination of all the stars aligning."
The night at USC saw a variety of skills, such as juggling clubs, single-armed handstands and unicycle jumps. At one point, DuBois juggled three tennis-sized balls in a variety of patterns, increasing the count until he worked with seven simultaneously.
The performance also used people in the audience as part of the show. First-year environmental science student Ricky Frick was asked to come on stage and assist DuBois by tossing him balls to juggle.
“My freshman year, I’ve been trying to be like my extroverted year,” Frick said after her surprise appearance on stage, which placed her directly in front of hundreds of audience members.
Frick said she wasn’t nervous to be on stage with DuBois, something she attributed to the fact that she “couldn’t really see anybody because of the lights.”
DuBois also mentioned how harsh the stage lights were. He said his appearances at universities can be more difficult because the lighting isn't optimal for his stunts.
At another point during the event, he juggled bowling-pin clubs while balancing one on his forehead. Another time, DuBois asked a student to toss one in his direction, catching it and juggling it alongside four and then five and then six other clubs.
Grimmy also took the stage during the hour-long performance by spinning two hula hoops around her waist while bending her leg nearly 180 degrees towards her head.
Students in the crowd looked on as she twisted and contorted, first upside-down, then with a leg bent all the way to her neck, eventually forming a split on the stage, all while twirling a pair of red hula hoops.
DuBois later brought second-year retail student William Cook on stage and asked Cook to lay flat on the ground. He then mounted a unicycle, while jokingly pleading with Cook to stay still.
DuBois continued on to hop over Cook’s legs one at a time, which sent the crowd into applause and laughter.
Cook said his favorite part of the experience was the opportunity to crack some jokes with DuBois on stage.
The crowd fell silent as DuBois announced his final act: while straitjacketed, he was to mount a six-foot-tall unicycle with the help of two students. Audience members watched wide-eyed as DuBois unicycled around the stage.
The theater erupted with applause as DuBois unexpectedly freed himself from the straitjacket to close out the performance.
"I think we'll maybe get a bigger circus tent down the road, and maybe start producing stuff if I ever want to sort of slow down the physicality. But yeah, I mean, I'm happy where we're at. I just want to keep doing it," DuBois said.