Creating an Inter-Generational Duo: an Interview with Duo Avocado

Interview with Ava Vermilya and Alyssa Hellrung, the performers of “Duo Avocado!*” Duo Avocado will be performing with Vuelta La Luna Variety Circus as a part of Kla Ha Ya Days on July 19th – 22th in Snohomish. Get to know this coach/student duo!

*Pronounced Duo Ah-‘vah-keh-doh, like evocative.

How did you start performing together?

Alyssa: Ava was in the Magnifcent 7 and I was coaching Mag 7, so I’d been working with her there for a while. I’d previously been working with another kid and she left circus for soccer. So, I hadn’t been working with anyone for a while, probably a year at least! So I think it was the summer of…oh god.

Ava: I remember it was the summer I was going into 5th grade. I think it was 2015?

Alyssa: So I approached Ava’s mom Elaine, because I have known her forever, because Ava’s sister, Sylvie was in the Amazing Circus 1-ders at the time, and was like, “Hey! I miss doing duo trapeze with a kid and Ava seems great (and bendy!) and I think it would be really fun!”

Ava: Well, I remember you just came up after practice one day and just said you wanted to talk to me so I thought I was in trouble! Then you asked if I wanted to do duo trapeze with you and I had seen Elly do it and was like, that looks like fun!

Alyssa: Ava didn’t have a ton of aerial experience, so we started from the very beginning, which for me was awesome! Because there were no bad habits, so that was really cool. Also, she didn’t have to adjust to me as a new base because there were no previous bases. Our first performance was SASS 2016. You were so tiny!

Who named it Duo Avocado?

Ava: Kind of both of us. It started as a joke because we couldn’t think of a name and people call me Avacado.

Alyssa: We were stretching in Mag 7 one day and people were naming their favorite fruits and I was like, “You know, avocado is a fruit”.  And Ava was like “WHAT?” Then there’s also this funny Scoobie Doo episode where this guy’s last name is avocado but pronounced “Ah-vah-keh-do”. So the Mag 7’s were like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you were Duo Avocado?” So then we just started going by that name!

What other performances have you done?

Alyssa: We’ve done a new act at SASS every year since 2016.

So you aren’t re-working the same act, you create a new act for each one?

Alyssa: Yeah.

Ava: And I think SASS was the debut for each of those acts.

Alyssa: And then for SASS 2017 we did a piece called “Little Worrier.” And then Amazon needed a gig for the Amazon Family Picnic in 2017 and so we got to do it and we performed with Ben and Rachel [Duo Madrona] and Tanya Brno and that was AWESOME.

Ava: Yes!

How do you come up with your choreography?

Ava: In between each act we have a month or two where we work on new skills and then from there we make little sequences and figure out how to put them together and come up with transitions.

Alyssa: A lot of times it has to do with the music also, like for “Little Worrier” I had the music and was like, “Let’s make an act with this music,” and then for this one we had some sequences we were working on and the song came in later.

What do you like most about working with each other?

Alyssa: I like how we are a lot alike, like mentally. We both are anxious about stuff. We both like to process things. And we both really like to perform. I never feel bad if I’m like “I don’t know, I think we need a spot.” Which is really nice because sometimes you can work with partners who are like, “Come on! Pony up!” you know? And it’s just been really cool to work with somebody for so long who is still growing. Ava is getting stronger all the time.

Ava: I also love that we can do new tricks now that we’re closer to the same size. If I feel kind of nervous about a trick and want a spot, Alyssa is also the same. Neither of us only want to try a trick with a spot one time.

Alyssa: We are both pretty cautious, which is great. We both step up to things which makes both of us feel safer. I also think it’s funny that we have certain sequences that we have learned along the way that were SO scary when we first learned them and then we’ll learn something harder and then that thing becomes not a big deal anymore. Now every time we have something really hard we know, “Well now we just need something harder!” and then that thing won’t be a big deal anymore.

What is it like working together with the big age difference?

Alyssa: She’s in Cirrus and I don’t teach Cirrus. So that’s cool that I didn’t lose Ava! Sometimes people move up and I don’t get to see them anymore, which makes me sad. But I still get to work with Ava now which is really cool.

Ava: We both have other interests, other things we do outside of SANCA, so we talk about that a lot. Just talk about our lives pretty much!

Alyssa: Totally.

What’s the most challenging trick you have in your act now?

Alyssa: Our opening release sequence.

Ava: I agree. It feels less scary now, but that is definitely the scariest thing. We did have a fall with it.

Alyssa: In a show!

Did you have a mat?

Alyssa: Yeah, and a spotter! But that was back when our technique was not nearly as good as it is now.

Ava: And now that we have it completely down and we haven’t had anything close to a fall, I still sometimes feel like, “Oh no, here’s the scary part!”

Alyssa: Same! It’s weird how sometimes I don’t even think about it and then other times I’m like, “Oh no here it comes!”

What have you learned from working with each other?

Ava: I think just how similar we are. I didn’t know you very well before we started working together.

Alyssa: You hadn’t been in Mags that long.

Ava: Yeah, a year maybe? We’ve come to do so many gigs together that we have just gotten to know each other so much better. Like the Amazon gig I was the only kid. And having someone that I know well makes it less scary. Like I know Ben and Rachel but it’s nice to have [Alyssa] there.

Alyssa: It’s maybe not something that I’ve learned but something that’s been solidified from working with Ava is that if you work with a kid who is emotionally mature and you treat them with respect like a peer, crazy awesome things can happen! Like I’m never yelling at her, we are a team. And that is really key. Even if you’re working inter-generationally, if you are working as a team, super cool stuff can happen, and I think that’s really important.

Ava: Working together we collaborate on what we think looks good and what we think needs to change, and I think it works a lot better because we both get to work together and give our input.

Alyssa: Totally, and I would never get better as a base if you didn’t feel like you couldn’t say how, “Oh that transition is totally not working” or “That felt weird.” We can’t come up with a solution if you didn’t feel like you could say how you felt then we would never get any better. We’ve worked a lot with Ben and Rachel, especially Rachel. She has been invaluable in us improving our skills..

Ava: I feel like I can say if something goes wrong, like, “Um, no I think that was you this time.” I feel comfortable saying that you did something wrong.

Alyssa: For sure.

Does it make you want to perform more?

Ava: Yeah. The whole show [Amazon] there was a story and I also like acting. So we got to improv and Alyssa played my baby sitter.

Alyssa: And Ben and Rachel were your parents!

Ava: I definitely like that type of show better than just going on stage for two minutes and being backstage for the rest of the show.

Alyssa: That “go out on stage do your act and leave” is fun, but it’s really fun to be a part of an ensemble. That’s definitely something I’m looking forward to in the Vuelta show is that it’s going to be with the same people, doing the same show. I don’t know if there’s any acting, we haven’t heard yet, but I like that kind of show.

Anything you can share about this upcoming show?

Alyssa: I’ve never been to it but apparently there is a fair and it’s super family friendly. It is far, but I’m hoping some SANCA families will make the haul, it will be worth it. Gabby Leiva [another SANCA coach] is also performing, doing fabric. Also, one of the people who owns the circus is Deanna Riley who is a student here, she takes hoop here and trapeze from me.

Ava: And that’s how we heard about it too.

Alyssa: And it’s in a tent! That’s cool.