Solo circus: Downers Grove acrobat performs for Alzheimer's patients in Burr Ridge

  • Socially distanced residents of Harvester Place memory care center were treated to a jumping springs circus act by Evan Baird of Downers Grove on Thursday.

      Socially distanced residents of Harvester Place memory care center were treated to a jumping springs circus act by Evan Baird of Downers Grove on Thursday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/4/2020 6:21 PM

Evan Baird literally jumped at the chance to perform Thursday at a memory care center in Burr Ridge.

All the jumping was in Baird's outdoor solo circus act.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Brave volunteer Carole Considine allowed Evan Baird of Downers Grove to spring over her as part of a circus act on Thursday at Harvester Place memory care center in Burr Ridge.
  Brave volunteer Carole Considine allowed Evan Baird of Downers Grove to spring over her as part of a circus act on Thursday at Harvester Place memory care center in Burr Ridge. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

The 22-year-old Downers Grove resident wore jumping springs and a mask while bopping through the air to Billy Porter's song "Love Yourself" for a crowd of about 25 people at Harvester Place, which specializes in patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

"I've been looking for smaller gigs and shows like the one I'm doing here," said Baird, a Downers Grove South High School alumnus who competed on its gymnastics team. "I've been practicing, putting together something that is COVID-friendly, as well as being a fun and safe performance for the audience."

In addition to jumping stilts, Evan Baird of Downers Grove has circus skills in trampwall, teeterboard and Russian swing.
  In addition to jumping stilts, Evan Baird of Downers Grove has circus skills in trampwall, teeterboard and Russian swing. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
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Baird had originally planned to audition for a number of international circus troupes this summer after graduating from Illinois State University with a degree in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements.

Baird admits he chose to get his college degree in Normal so he could also be a part of ISU's Gamma Phi Circus -- the oldest collegiate circus in the country, dating back to 1929.

But the coronavirus pandemic forced theaters and touring circuses to shut down in March. There was little demand for Baird's circus skills in jumping stilts, trampwall, teeterboard and Russian swing (all documented on his Instagram page @baird.evan).

Downers Grove resident Evan Baird, 22, uses jumping stilts in a solo circus act to wow the crowd at Harvester place memory care center in Burr Ridge. Baird wanted to audition for circus troupes this summer, but COVID-19 interfered with his plans.
  Downers Grove resident Evan Baird, 22, uses jumping stilts in a solo circus act to wow the crowd at Harvester place memory care center in Burr Ridge. Baird wanted to audition for circus troupes this summer, but COVID-19 interfered with his plans. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Right now, even the best of the best don't have jobs," Baird said.

In the meantime, Baird has been training and working as a coach at the Illinois Gymnastics Institute in Westmont. It's one way for Baird to keep his skills up.

And that's where Harvester Place community relations director Theresa Kenaga comes in. Kenaga is a Baird family friend, and she thought Evan could be a great diversion for Harvester Place's residents, who have been mostly shut indoors since the spring.

Caregiver Cristina Alvarez, left, and nurse Jocelyn Beguzman make Downers Grove gymnast Evan Baird jump higher as they max out the rope he has to jump over as part of his show at Harvester Place in Burr Ridge.
  Caregiver Cristina Alvarez, left, and nurse Jocelyn Beguzman make Downers Grove gymnast Evan Baird jump higher as they max out the rope he has to jump over as part of his show at Harvester Place in Burr Ridge. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

"Engaging residents during the era of COVID-19 has been a challenge," said Kenaga about safely creating residents-only and socially distanced events. "Anything we do for residents on a larger scale -- other than bingo or trivia that occur inside the community -- is going to have to be done outside in the parking lot."

Baird also has a personal connection to the venue, since his mother, Beverly, has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.

"My mom -- she started my whole passion for acrobatics and gymnastics and circus," Baird said. "She's why I do what I do."

Downers Grove resident Evan Baird, 22, greets the socially distanced crowd from Harvester Place in Burr Ridge for his solo circus act on jumping springs.
  Downers Grove resident Evan Baird, 22, greets the socially distanced crowd from Harvester Place in Burr Ridge for his solo circus act on jumping springs. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Baird also wants businesses holding events to also consider using local performers, including magicians and balloon artists, if they can be safely incorporated with social distancing.

"They're getting left out," Baird said. "Support your local artists is just the same as 'Support your local business.'"

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