In new Grand Ave window displays, 30 years of festive Circus Juventas costumes

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To mark its 30th anniversary, the youth circus school Circus Juventas is displaying more than 30 costumes from past shows in windows on Grand Avenue.

The window displays, themed with props and descriptive cards, are along the corner of Grand and Victoria Street, in the former Pottery Barn store that closed earlier this year.

Costumes from previous Circus Juventas shows, as well as other pieces of youth circus memorabilia, are shown in window displays on May 29, 2024. The displays, in the former Pottery Barn store on the corner of Grand Avenue and Victoria Street, are set to remain in place until June 15. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

The Circus Juventas costumes are currently scheduled to be on display until June 15, but the show could be extended further into the summer pending the approval of the building’s owner, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio.

That company, a pension fund based in Columbus, has been the subject of some criticism over rising vacancy rates among its Grand Avenue real estate holdings. The company has been quite receptive to the costume display project, though, said Carolyn Will, a Circus Juventas spokesperson who helped coordinate the show.

And the timing of the exhibition coincides with Grand Old Day, the recently revived annual street festival that’s set to take place this year on Sunday, June 2. This year’s Grand Old Day will stretch from Snelling Avenue to Dale Street, a smaller footprint than in years past, but will include a parade, several music stages and live wrestling.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, City Council member Rebecca Noecker and Grand Avenue Business Association president Chris Jensen spoke at an unveiling event for the window displays Wednesday morning.

A centerpiece of the exhibition is a pair of costumes Circus Juventas founders Dan and Betty Butler wore during their own circus performing careers; the couple met as teenagers at the Sailor Circus in Sarasota, Fla.

Last fall, the Butlers passed the St. Paul youth circus to new leaders: Rob Dawson, a Cirque du Soleil alum, became executive director, and the Butlers’ daughter, Rachel Butler-Norris — who, for the past 15 years, has been the assistant artistic director alongside her mother — took on the artistic director role in her own right.

Circus Juventas executive director Rob Dawson, right, and artistic director Rachel Butler-Norris smile in front of window displays of past Circus Juventas costumes on May 29, 2024. Dawson and Butler-Norris took over their roles from Circus Juventas founders Dan and Betty Butler in fall 2023. (Photo courtesy Gabrielle Ripley)

“Taking over from them has been surreal, and I’m trying to honor their legacy always, but this 30th year especially,” Butler-Norris said after the unveiling event. “And I’m really happy and proud to be able to see their costumes.”

Because many performers are able to keep their costumes after Circus Juventas shows close, tracking them down was a logistical challenge, Butler-Norris said.

And currently, the school’s costume designers are busy creating pieces for Circus Juventas’s summer show, “Jangala,” The annual show, which tells a new story each year, highlights the school’s top performers with professional-grade production value.

“Jangala” runs for 15 performances between July 26 and Aug. 11. Tickets go on sale June 10 at

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