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Under the big top
The Big Apple Circus offers an impressive tour

With a quarter-century of practice behind it, the Big Apple Circus has certainly gotten its acts together this summer. From charming pageantry, through crowd-pleasing dog act, to a dramatic trapeze finale, their 25th anniversary presentation, through July 14, is showing what this kind of wholesome entertainment is all about.

Stepping out of the big top beaming afterward may be no challenge to most folks who have caught the tour. It has passed through Ninigret Park, in Charlestown, every July since the mid-í80s. Now, Iíve been a challenge to this low-key European-style circus in the past, jaded as I am by Cirque du Soleil extravagance, but this yearís show easily won me over.

What helped me out was snappy pacing for the most part and top-notch talent for the rest. This is not just your kidsí circus Ė some of the performers are impressive indeed.

You may slap your knees at Taco Bell commercials, but the allure of cute dogs usually escapes me. But my favorite act this year is Irina Markovaís Fabergé Poodles. Yes, frou-frou French poodles, no less. Forgive me, but the sight of these little yippers on their hind legs running around is a sight gag hoot. Shorn scrawny, a poodle looks pretty silly anyway, and when you get one into a dress and convince him to lead a cat on a leash all the way around the ring, youíre past surreal and into sublime. (Getting a cat to scamper in a circle could have been the whole act by itself.)

Simple things can be the most impressive. In keeping with the turn-of-the-(20th)-century theme this year, a trampoline starts out as a billiard table in a menís club, until the Aniskin Troupe starts bouncing on it. Itís ironic how the more remarkable the precision required for some of these acts, the more natural they look Ė when one of the acrobats bounces high enough to somersault backward onto the shoulders of a man who himself is standing on shoulders, it looks as easy as stepping off a ladder.

Speaking of ladders, the routine by Uzeyir Novruzov starts out with him putting up a circus poster. It concludes with him atop a ladder maybe 10 feet tall, wobbling around on it like stilts, after having all but done an Irish jig on it.

Using common objects for props is a good way to wake us up. Circus performers are constantly challenged to freshen up routines that weíve seen too many times, such as juggling. Swiss juggler Claudius Specht, however, is dazzling enough to be the curtain closer before intermission. His forté is speed. While he shows us he can keep seven clubs in the air, itís when he blurs three between his legs as he walks along that heís amazing.

Horses are used a lot this year Ė maybe not having elephants, which can do little more than stand against one another, left lots of room in the trucks. Susanne Svenson leaps and strikes ballerina poses on a white horse. Carlos Svenson rises dramatically from horseback as though the dangling red cloths wrapped around his arms are wings. Thereís far less this year of Big Apple mainstay Katja Schumann putting a string of horses through their graceful, if boring, gerbil-wheel paces.

The closing act, as usual, is high above us Ė on the flying trapeze, rather than high wire, this year. The Aniskin Troupe has seven members working on two levels, for more interesting and complex possibilities with weaving bodies in the air. After one somersault on opening night we got to see that the net is there for more than dropping into with a flourish at the end Ė the flyer fell. Thatís understandable enough, but his annoyed disappointment during his perfunctory bow demonstrated how seriously these people take their work.

For everyone who has been to the Big Apple Circus before and is concerned about whether Grandma is back, donít worry. Clown Barry Lubin, in bag lady drag, is here with his droll sense of humor for grown-ups to appreciate. Grandma, scuffing around the audience with a shopping bag on her arm, can make more fun with a sack of popcorn than some clowns can with a fire hose. (She takes chances, too. It was only after one exchange was over that I realized how spraying a mouthful of water into an elderly gentlemanís face might not have been well received.)

This is a great tour for Big Apple. If you havenít gone to the circus in a while or have been meaning to catch this troupe some day, this year is certainly the time. The Big Apple Circus At Ninigret Park in Charlestown through July 14.

Issue Date: July 11 - 17, 2003
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