Sora Iriye

Creating Connection through Art

By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Alice G. Patterson

“Life has just always taken me on this great, crazy ride,” said Sora Iriye, cofounder and head diva at CirqOvation, a locally-based performance company that combines physical theater, vaudeville, street performance and traditional circus.

Born and raised in Arizona, Sora spent most of her young life wanting to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and help people through medicine.

She also had passion for dance. She danced “everywhere all the time,” she said.

While Sora admits she doesn’t think she had the raw talent to become a prima ballerina, she explained that, to a certain extent, her mother wanted to temper her expectations. Sora was born with lymphangioma — malformations of the lymphatic system — on the right side of her face.

“I know it didn’t make sense for me to go into performing and into entertainment because I didn’t have a perfect body. But I was always too naive to know that, and that was because of the eternal kindness that has always been in my life,” she said, adding that her family gives her a foundation of love, compassion and support.

Sora went to college to study pre-med. However, by the middle of her sophomore year, she knew it wasn’t the right path for her.

“I have to change. I have to do something else,” she remembered thinking.

Having always been a spiritual person, Sora decided to go into the ministry, accepting an internship at the United Church of Christ in Cleveland. They nurtured and supported her, she remembered. However, it still wasn’t exactly what Sora needed at that point in her life. She decided to pursue spirituality outside of religion. Around the same time, Sora discovered SAFMOD, a dance company in Cleveland.

“They were doing things that nobody else was doing,” she said.

The company members learned everything from ballet to circus arts to breakdance to modern dance. She joined and SAFMOD became her creative family.

Eventually, her fellow company members pushed Sora to get professional schooling in the circus arts and become a freelance artist in the field. They gave her all the resources she needed to follow that path, she remembered.

“So, I really try to pay that forward to other performers and other freelancers,” she said, “because that was a gift to me.”

Sora attended circus school in the United Kingdom before returning to the United States to freelance in New York City, where she met her husband, Josh. She wasn’t thriving professionally, though. The market in the city was saturated and, being new to the craft, Sora didn’t have an established network yet.

One day, she and Josh talked about moving and realized they shared a dream: living in a church. So, they did some searching, eventually found their home/studio space on Craigslist and moved to the Central New York area in 2010.

For the following few years, they worked as freelancers until another idea struck.

“We’re freelancers and our community [of fellow artists] is all freelancers,” Sora said. “So, we were like, ‘Let’s build this company and be able to work with our friends, hire our friends — who are consummate professionals — and create big things.”

And with that, their company, CirqOvation, was created.

Sora spent the next few years building the team’s network and booking shows around the world.

Recently, she’s been focused on building more connections in Central New York. In the past, CirqOvation has performed with Symphoria, a partnership the team hopes to continue in the future. She hopes to book more gigs locally, too, Sora said.

“I’m trying to be more intentional about this because I appreciate and love this community so much,” she said. “Syracuse has always been opening and welcoming to us.”

Sora’s joined networking groups like Women Business Opportunities Connection and even founded a new networking group, Not Your Boss’s Networking Event, this past summer.

She hopes to organize nontraditional networking each month and then build the group from there. Sora invites people to come as they are — “your authentic, messy self,” she said — and be ready to truly connect and talk about hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities.

Her goal with Not Your Boss’s Networking Event is to bring together a diverse group of people from across all races, religions, socio-economic statuses, genders and sexual orientations.

“The people who are most inspiring to me in life are powerful, kind people,” Sora said. “So, I want to bring these powerful, kind, creative people together so that we can talk about our lives, connect and create community and economy and innovation in our city. And do it while having fun.” SWM

For more information on CirqOvation, visit cirqovation.com. For more information on Not Your Boss’s Networking Event, find the group on Facebook. 

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