A traveling water circus will bring a taste of Italian culture to Shawnee May 24-27.

This year’s theme of Cirque Italia will take guests on a virtual voyage to different Italian ports, said Samantha Kulinski, an aerialist in the show. 

“The idea is that we’re transporting people from port to port in Italy to give a taste of each Italian town or story,” Kulinski said. “We have gladiators…we have Romeo and Juliet as an aerial act, we have a trip through Venice, or locations like Pompeii.”

Cirque Italia was created in 2012 by Manuel Rebecchi, an Italian entrepreneur who invented the concept of the water circus. The circus’s stage holds 35,000 gallons of water, which shoots up in fountains around performers.

Popular performances include trapeze acts, rollerskating, a clown, a crossbow act and a man who balances on his head while singing Italian opera. A thousand people can fit in the circus’s tent, and the show regularly sells out, Kulinski said.

While a typical American circus might feature animals and multiple rings, Cirque Italia is animal-free and has just one ring. This helps the audience connect with performers, Kulinski said.

“No matter where you sit, you have a very personal experience,” Kulinski said. “You can see the performers, the performers can see you. Which gives us a lot of energy when we can see people’s faces.”

The circus’s talent hails from countries such as Italy, Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela, said Elena Stefanova, an aerialist from Bulgaria.

Stefanova has been training in acrobatics since age six, and competed for Bulgaria’s national team before joining the circus in the U.S., she said.

Kulinski, on the other hand, didn’t start doing circus until she was in college, when she was inspired by Cirque du Soleil.

Kulinski said that the stage’s water feature makes audiences even more interested in her performance.

“Sometimes it can be a little disorienting if I get it in my eye and have to blink it out,” Kulinski said. “But it’s part of my act –– it makes it a little bit more challenging but it makes it more exciting too.”

Cirque Italia will hold nine performances May 24-27 at the Heart of OK Expo Center on 1700 W. Independence Street. Tickets can be purchased online.