Big Apple Circus

The Big Apple Circus features not one but three jugglers this year. The Circus is in town (New York, at Lincoln Center) until  January 27th. Then it’ll play The National Harbor in Maryland from February 14th until March 24th.

They begin with a colorful Company intro, where all the performers fill the circus ring and do one or two tricks at the same time to the swinging music of the live brass band.

Next up, the first act. A juggler! Emil Faltyny is from Prague. He climbs and stalls on a free standing ladder. He goes through the rungs to the one below then back up to the top for a pose and applause point. He juggles five clubs and dismounts to take up his next prop, a zig-zag ladder. Next, a change of pace with a quick turning six foot high cube frame. He spins it like a staff and balances it on a long pole on his chin. Then, while balancing it, he climbs a rolling ladder. At the top of the unstable ladder, with the chin balance, he tosses a soccer ball, from his foot to a corner of the cube and traps it there. Terrific!

Next up- a juggler! Adam Kuchler is the repeating comic between acts together with Mark Gindick, assistant clown. But before Adam begins his buffoonery he commands respect by displaying his skills. His prop of choice is colorful cigar boxes. First a fast paced routine with three,  showing take-aways, tosses to balances, and pirouettes. Then grab and trap with sixteen boxes, and finally a WC Fields balance with all of them.

Returning from last year was perennial animal trainer Jenny Vidbel. She takes the stage with her magnificent equines, four black, and four white. Plus two miniatures hardly larger than a Saint Bernard dog. Speaking of dogs, in the second half she returns with dogs and other critters. She had some new tricks up her sleeve, including dogs playing frisbee, a trained pig, and a poodle driving a car.

Jenny, who keeps her horses and other quadropeds comfortably stabled on her upstate New York farm is a tough act to follow and the task falls to the the third and final juggler, Victor Moiseev.

Victor’s act is called, ‘Vertical Juggling’ but would be more accurately described as ‘pendulum juggling.’ He has taken Jörge Miller’s idea and modified it. He wears an outfit that looks like Gengis Khan’s auto mechanic. It doesn’t matter because the lights are all off. You can’t see a thing, other than the illuminated glow-balls, hanging by unseen threads. He pushes them away and by the laws of physics they must return after a brief excursion. Not that brief, actually. The more he tries to send them away, the more they return, after the appropriate dwell time. The routine is slow and a little bit confusing and pointless. He finishes with nine orbitals swinging around and being gathered up. The act was a hair’s breath above awful. Although I will say there were no drops.

After Victor is the romantic couple on aerial straps, Valeriy Sychev and  Ekaterina Stepanova.
They do a slow, romantic, mushy, routine using a French playback (all the other acts were complimented by the Big Apple live brass band). High over-head while swinging around the tent he manages to manipulate her bodily, including dropping her and catching her with his feet. The pace was much too slow for the majority of the youngsters in the audience.

After intermission Spicy Circus picked up the pace with a visually stunning wall trampoline act.  Two women and three men positively dance in the air, flipping and twisting, and barely missing each other.

The penultimate act was Duo Fusion with Ihosvanys Perez and Virginia Tuells. This was acrobalance with a difference. Namely the woman was the base-man for almost the entire routine. And not at the expense of lowering the degree of difficulty.

Lastly the show stopper, The Flying Tunisianis, trapeze artists. Led by Ammed Tuniziani who finishes with a quadruple summersault, the family team risks it all to finish off the night with a thrill. Included in the team is brother Gamal Garcia who was featured juggler last year and is on hand this year to perform his solo juggling routine (including five clubs and 7 ball bounce) should any other act need to cancel.

The Ring Master (or more properly, “Ring Mistress” according to Keith Nelson) is the inimitable Stephanie Monseu. Stephanie, together with Keith Nelson, created Bindlestiff Family Circus in 1995. They host the Youth Circus Festival and Unicycle Festival in New York every year. They have created programs, festivals, and shows around the world, including the show “Cabaret” last year. They also produce an open-mic style show on the first Monday of each month in Manhattan on the Lower East Side at Dixon Place. Stephanie’s enthusiasm and star-quality shine through as she focuses the energy forward.

Mark Lonergan directed this year’s show. It was a terrific night of family entertainment, with something for everyone. Perhaps it would have been better to focus on being for children, rather than for “everyone”, which includes adults who can appreciate slow-paced, and experimental acts. Small children might not want to see that. I certainly don’t.

At two hours including an intermission it was also quite a bit shorter than previous years. Before the show begins and during intermission the guests were welcome to visit the Shpeigal Tent, a modified lounge decorated with historical circus props and wooden picnic tables and a bar serving circus themed booze. Outside was a concessions stand selling popcorn, cotton candy, pop, and glow toys.

Circus has certainly changed over the last few years. Ringling Brothers are gone; Cirque du Soliel is the largest live entertainment corporation in the world. Somewhere in between is the good old fashioned Big Apple tent circus. Don’t miss it before it’s gone, too. And bring the kids, or at least the ‘child inside.’

Raphael Harris

Raphael Harris was the proprietor of the Jerusalem Circus School for Children for over ten years. He has performed "Sir Juggley's One Man Circus" over a thousand times. He appeared in the Guiness Book of World Records twice and the Record Setters Book of World Records three times. He lives in New York.

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