Big Apple Circus: Review by Jo Mispel

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Last Sunday, my little ones and I raced through the drizzle towards the Big Apple Circus. Their large red tent sits tucked beside Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side. We were excited to see their show again after having the good fortune of enjoying it immensely a few years back.

There is just something about a circus. The smell of popcorn and horse hay, the intimacy of a tent, and the pulse of a big brass band. But what thrills me the most is the incredible physicality of the acrobats. It was life-affirming to witness, in-person, the amazing feats the human body can achieve. When you see the action up close, you can see the sweat and hear the grunts. No mediating screens or special effects necessary. These are the types of experiences our kids tend to have less and less of these days; especially in our big city. The Big Apple Circus, New York’s own since 1977, delivers all these experiences and more.

This year’s ringleader is a Brooklyn woman names Storm Marrero who was not only fun and inviting but had a wonderful booming voice that she occasionally used to burst into song. We also had the delightful Amy Gordon as Pidge, a New York Pigeon. She was the slapstick clown act for the transitions between numbers. The two women had a satisfying banter that kept the show moving and entertaining while props were rearranged. And speaking of comedy, many of you will be pleased to know that there are no classic clowns, scary or otherwise, found anywhere in this show.

You also won’t find many animals and certainly no wild ones. The Big Apple Circus is apparently well known for its humane treatment of all animals in their care but has regardless moved beyond them being the centerpiece. There were, however, a couple of magnificent horses performing with the husband and wife team, Caleb Carinci And Renny Spencer. The horses seemed relaxed, and there was no force used, one could sense the trust between them all. Watching them trot around the ring is pretty special up close. What was most surprising for me, however, was that the only other nonhuman performers were some cats! The Savitsky Cats. I would never have thought it possible to teach cats to perform on command? But by golly they did. Treats and cuddles.

But mostly this was a show about athleticism. Opening with some stunning aerial work by two Ukrainian women, Maryna Tkachenko and Tetyana Yudina, whose strength and agility was really quite startling, and a little nerve-wracking at times. They were my four year old’s favorites as per her report on the way home. I think to her they were like fairy princesses twirling in midair.

Strong men act Dupla Mão and Roda, treated us to a more grounded show of crazy strength and agility. The balancing half of the act, Rafael Ferreira, works from out of a wheelchair, due to congenital arthrogryposis, which was inspiring and another element of refreshing diversity in this show.

The Wheel of Death, one of those spinning figure of eight kind of contraptions, is probably one of the most breathtaking acts. 23 year old Jayson Dominguez, an eighth-generation circus performer, was flipping and tumbling and running inside and outside that moving monster with no safety belt. It was terrifying but exhilarating. It is in these moments that it is fun to feel awestruck with a crowd. Everyone watching closely, engaged. There were lots of young children, babies even, but no sense of overwhelming noise. The big band and sound system worked well acoustically.

The act my son loved the most was the finale, the Alieve Troupe from Russia, who performed the full high flying, 20 feet high, aerial act. My son couldn’t believe how they were throwing each other in midair, which sounds clumsy, but they flew in beautiful lengthy rotating arcs. One of the women also did some mesmerizing spinning from the roof, the speed turning her into an optical illusion.  How does one stay intact whirling that fast for that long?

We were lucky enough to have VIP tickets, which I would recommend if doable. This meant we could access the VIP room before, at intermission, and after the show. It was a place we could leave our bulky jackets and umbrellas, use separate restrooms and be treated to complimentary circus snacks and drinks, adult and child-friendly. This made it very relaxing with the kids. In the general area outside the main ring, there was the usual mix of fair food, Candyfloss, popcorn, waffles, hotdogs and drinks of all kinds. All the staff were all dressed in colorful circus attire and the stands were aptly decorated, which also helped it feel transporting.

A perfect New York day out with the little ones.

BIG APPLE CIRCUS runs through February 2, 2020, at Lincoln Center Visit








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