This year marks the 40th anniversary of Big Apple Circus. Designed originally as a small touring circus with just one ring and a few performers along the lines of traditional American circuses, it’s now outlived many of its predecessors, most notably, Ringling, Barnum and Bailey’s Circus which closed last year after a 140 year run.
Some might think it’s the end days for live circuses- but it’s not so. Smaller and more intimate circuses have something grand to offer: a chance to see traditional circus arts up close and personal – the spectacle of larger three ring circuses running different acts simultaneously, always left me feeling I’d missed something- no matter where I looked, I knew I’d missed something else.
With Big Apple, you see it all. For one thing, there are no bad seats inside the big blue tent at National Harbor. No matter where you sit, you’re never more than a few feet from the performers, and can see them doing near to impossible feats. Everything about this anniversary show speaks of years of dedication both inside and outside the ring: beginning with their handsome Ringleader Ty McFarlan, who works the crowd as only a professional can, entertaining us with short snippets from each act’s history.
This year’s acts are a wonder: Nik Wallenda (yes, of those famous Flying Wallendas) brings his wire walking Wallenda Company to perform their famed Seven Man Pyramid- honestly, it’s stupendous, and rightly the headline act of the evening.
There are a couple of standout acts besides the Wallendas, most notably Elayne Kramer, a contortionist in glittery purple who ends her act by shooting an equally glittery purple arrow from a purple bow- upside down and with her feet. Yup, you read that right. The Ananstasini Brothers, just the two of them, do a lightening-quick balancing act that’s a joy to behold.
Everything is smaller, not bigger, in Big Apple Circus, and that’s often a very good thing. Rollerskating act Dandino is entirely on a tiny rink 8 feet in diameter, yet they manage to do many of the elaborate twirls and lifts seen in Olympic ice skating.
Everything is miniaturized, even the horses. Jenny Vidbel is the only animal act in the Circus, but wow, what an act. The tiniest miniature horses come on – first three black ones, then three white ones, then three more black ones and three more white ones! That is an almost heart-stoppingly adorable number of cute miniature horses, and though I’d be happy just to watch them run around the ring in a bunch, they actually do formations and patterns. They leave, and three glorious black Arabian full sized horses come on, and three white Arabians follow them. Surely the Arabian is the most beautiful of breeds, and to judge by the act, the most intelligent; I won’t spoil it by telling you more. Later on, some of the horses are joined by equally adorable black and white dogs, and you haven’t lived til you’ve seen a tiny poodle riding on a miniature horse’s back. I mean, c’mon, Jenny, you’re killing me with the adorableness.
Clowns Mr Joel and Skip are our bookend acts, bridging the gaps between acts when rigging is changed and props are set. They’re wonderful, more like silent movie comedians than mere workaday clowns- it’s like seeing Harold Lloyd times two. No spoilers, but there’s a lovely long gag with goofy bathing suits and cups of water that will leave you in tears, it’s that good. If I’d been drinking a soda it surely would have ended in a spittake. Should that prove to be too highbrow for some tastes, there’s also a bit with horns, a microphone and- pffft!- raspberries.
Big Apple Circus
closes April 1, 2018
Details and tickets
There’s so much offered under this small tent that it’s impossible to detail each of the fine acts- but one thing I noticed is that everyone, from clowns to aerialists to contortionists to the ring crew, is almost impossibly good looking. I know, I know, that’s not supposed to be important, and it’s to be expected from folks in such fine physical shape, but c’mon, give a girl a break. To paraphrase Cabaret, Even the the ring crew (the burly, 1890s-style bearded gents who set up nets, swings, etc) are beautiful. They get their place in the spotlight too, ‘racing’ to beat their personal record to set up the aerialists’ lines, and bowing proliferously afterward.
If you think the American style of circus is on the decline, you’re wrong. And if you think the circus is just for kids, you’re wrong again- though if you’re a parent, and you don’t take your kids to the Big Apple Circus, well, shame on you.
So turn off the cell phones, leave the laptops, games, screens and computers behind, and come to a small blue tent at the National Harbor. The circus awaits you, with all its sounds, sights, and smells of miniature horse dung. It’s reality, only prettier.
Big Apple Circus. Acts: Nik Wallenda, Erendira Wallenda and Company; Ringmaster Ty McFarlan; The Anastasini Brothers; Dandino; Jenny Vidbell; Joel Jeske; Gamal Garcia Tuniziani; Elayne Kramer; Ammed Tuniziani; Jan Damm; Clowns Mr Joel and Skip . Creative Team: Jon Batz-Owens; Rob Bissinger; Amy Clark; Jeff Croiter; Antoinette Dipietropolo; Anita La Scala; Mark Lonergan; Thomas Owings-Batz; Rob Slowik . Produced by Big Apple Circus. Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.