Dover will bring folks back to the 1700s on Saturday

Explaining what Signora Bella does is like trying to describe what it’s like to eat cake for the first time.

“She walks on a slack rope, she juggles and she balances on a ball,” said Jodi Ellis, who performs as Signora Bella, The Great Italian Equilibrist.

“That’s the equivalent of saying cake is really good: it’s made with eggs, flour and sugar. But that doesn’t tell you what a cake tastes like. You have to experience cake the same way you have to experience Signora Bella.”

A juggler of knives, torches and more, Signora Bella will serve up spoonfuls of impressive and obscure skills in her return to the 18th Century Market Fair on The Green Saturday.

Presented by First State Heritage Park, the fair is free and will feature performers and vendors, all in Colonial attire on The Green, to give you a sense of what Dover was like in the 1700s.

Ellis, of Virginia, has a signature skill: performing on the slack rope, used by acrobats and ropewalkers to show off tricks like flips and handstands.

When did you learn slack-rope walking?

In 1992, I was working in Colonial Williamsburg. We had a gentlemen from Richmond bring his [slack-rope rig] and show it to us. And we built one at Colonial Williamsburg. I was the person who was interested in taking the time to learn it.

From a performance perspective, it’s a big presentation. What I like most about it is the tighter you have the rope, the less you can move on it. I can wiggle a lot and still stay on my rope. But if I have it tighter, my ability to express myself will disappear. That’s what I like about the slack rope: it’s dynamic and fluid.

Why don’t more people become equilibrists?

It’s not easy. I don’t know that I have an answer for you, because it was by luck that I got exposed to be interested in learning it. I can’t tell you what motivated me to learn it other than it was there. It wasn’t that I sought it out; it found me.

How many Colonial events do you do per year?

It varies. Unfortunately, this year a couple bit the dust, which is always sad to see. In a good year I’m up to 20 events. In a bad year, I’m close to 10. I think the 250th anniversary of the United States in 2026 will bring a big boon.

What sets you apart from other equilibrists?

I think of myself as an entertainer first, and a skilled performer second. Typically what you see in a skilled performer is how many tricks they can show someone in X amount of time. The thing I enjoy most about my performances is what happens in a live environment, with anywhere from five to 100 people, within the course of that 20 minutes. I feel like I’m educating my audience and it’s a live performance, so I’m responding to what’s happening.