WEST TOWN — It had been a few years since Kevin Beverley’s hands touched the ballet bar at his alma mater.
But the brightly lit dance hall on the second floor of the Chicago Academy for the Arts smelled the exact same as it did in 2009.
“Old,” Beverley said, with a laugh. “Wooden dust, stagnant air … I walk in and think, ‘Oh man. This is like, history.”
From 2007 to 2009, Beverley, a suburban Grayslake native, commuted via Metra to the private high school to study classical dance. Like the majority of his classmates, he pursued the arts after graduating.
Beverley’s career, however, took him to unusually great heights when he landed a spot as a performer with Cirque du Soleil.
Coming “full circle,” he said, Beverley will perform the lead role in the circus’ famous hoop-diving performance “Volta” from May 18-June 23 at Soldier Field.
“I’m just really excited to show Chicago ‘Volta,'” he said. “I’m sharing a bit of what I left Chicago to do, by coming back.”
Beverley, 29, took a break from his hectic schedule on Tuesday to hang out with today’s students at his old high school, which is tucked between the Kennedy Expy. and the Chicago River at 1010 W. Chicago Ave.
He taught the school’s current dance students some moves from ‘Volta’ after snacking on West Town’s Vinnies Sub Shop. (Back in high school, he said, lunch would have been a slice from Pie-Eyed Pizzeria, which is across the street).
“I’m biased because I’m from here,” he said. “I love the neighborhoods of Chicago. I love the arts scene, the theatre.”
The youngest of three sons, Beverley grew up in the suburbs performing gymnastics before shifting to competitive dance.
While his older brothers went on to work in accounting and construction, his parents weren’t surprised when Beverley wanted to pursue the arts, he said.
“My mom brought me to dance every day for six years,” he said.
During his junior year of high school, Beverley transferred to the Chicago Academy for the Arts, a private arts-based high school. Academics began in the morning, followed by several hours of arts-related education.
Roughly half of the school’s 135 students hail from the city, while the other half travel from the suburbs, marketing director Tim Butler said.
From year to year a small handful of students commute from Northern Indiana or Southern Wisconsin, and some even travel from as far as China, Butler said. Tuition and fees round out to about $30,000 annually.
The school opened in 1981, but it wasn’t until 1984 that it settled into its current location. The building belongs to the neighboring St. John Cantius Catholic Church and is 100 years old — hence the “old” smell.
Beverley took his first circus class in Evanston at the age of 17. (On Mondays and Tuesdays, he drove himself to school, so he could make it to class afterwards). The combination of dance, acrobatics and theater made him realize, “this is my thing,” he said.
Most of the Chicago Academy for the Arts’ dance students go straight into the industry, Butler said. But to succeed in the circus, Beverley needed more education.
He auditioned for a spot in the National Circus School of Montreal — a three-year program that, like the Chicago Academy for the Arts, couples circus acrobatic training with academics. Classes here include French language, human anatomy in French and circus history.
Beverley didn’t get in on his first try. He moved to Vermont, where he studied at the New England Center for Circus Arts. After a year he gave Canada another shot, and this time, he was admitted to the school.
Since then, Beverley’s life has been a whirlwind of traveling and performing. He doesn’t have a permanent home, he said. (While on tour, performers rent AirBnbs together).
In early 2017, the hard work paid off when Beverley began performing “Volta” with Cirque du Soleil — fulfilling the ultimate childhood dream of a kid from the Chicago suburbs, he said.
His troupe performs more than 300 shows each year. While on tour, Cirque du Soleil performers like to partake in “cafe culture” — going to new cities and finding the coolest cafes and coffee shops, Beverley said.
For this upcoming Chicago leg, Beverley said he’s excited to rent a four-bedroom house near the Western Avenue CTA stop in Wicker Park, where he’ll enjoy theatre, art and coffee shops aplenty.
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