The Big Apple Circus Returns Bigger, Better, More Dazzling, and Thrilling Than Ever
By: Ellis Nassour
After a one year hiatus, New York’s home-grown Big Apple Circus has made a triumphant return, premiering its 40th Anniversary season at its longtime home under the big top in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, with performances through January 7. Rescued by Big Top Works , this New York original and intimate one-ring “circus with a heart” is back bigger, better, and newer than ever.
This edition captures the family fun, excitement, and thrills you expect with bumbling clowns, daredevils, acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, majestic horses, playful pups, and rousing music from a live band. There’s traditional sawdust, cotton candy, popcorn, and hot dogs slathered with mustard and relish to take you back to the nostalgic era when tented shows crisscrossed the country filling children of all ages with wonder and joy – and, no doubt, pounding heartbeats watching those daring performers on trapeze and high wire.
“This is a dream come true,” states Dr. Neil Kahanovitz, a now-retired spine surgeon, theatrical producer, and former circus performer. “The Big Apple Circus was a New York City cultural gem and we couldn’t let this beloved American pastime just disappear. We wanted the big top to rise again.
“Our goal,” he continues, “has been to push the envelope, to go gently into new territory, but keep circus tradition relevant for modern-day audiences.”
Though there have been changes – including a multi-million dollar upgrade in technical aspects and infrastructure, one thing hasn’t changed. “We wanted to keep the intimacy that a European-style, one-ring show offers,” says Dr. Kahanovitz. Under the climate-controlled big top, no seat is more than 50 feet from the ring.
Ready, set, go for lump-in-your-throat action? For the first time in circus history under the same big top or arena, two acts of audacious, death-defying acrobats go for the gold with edge-of-the seat daredevil thrills: the Flying Tunizianis – with trapeze wiz Ammed Tuniziani doing what was once thought unattainable: the quad somersault; and the Flying Wallendas, probably the most daring family troupe in circusdom, on the taunt high wire with a jaw dropping seven-person pyramid.
The latter act traces its roots back seven generations to the 1780s and the Austro-Hungarian empire. Headliner Nik Wallenda, who first set foot on the high wire at age two, holds 10 world records.
In addition to thrills, ringmaster Ty McFarlan, Ringling Bros. ringmaster emeritus, presides over the high spirits and hijinks of Grandma, a 2016 inductee into the International Circus Hall of Fame, and his sidekick Mr. Joel; a talented barking brigade of rambunctious rescue dogs and 8 magnificent steeds and eight ponys trained by Jenny Vidbel; Italian skate acrobats Dandlino and Luciania; and the U.S.’s young, debonair Jan Damm, making his BAC debut doing “rola-bola” (balancing on stacks of wobbly cylinders).
You might call this year’s show a generational affair. Wallenda is a ninth generation performer; his wife Erendira, from Australia’s famed Ashton Circus family (third oldest in circus history), has eighth generation linage; hand-and-foot balancing “Risley” acrobats Guiliano and Fabio Anastisini are ninth generation; and Argentine contortionist and crossbow artist with a great aim Elayne Kramer, who began performing at age four, is sixth generation. Vidbel and handsome Venezuelan juggler Gama Garcia are third generation.
It’s not surprising to discover that Dr. Kahanovitz, who was president of the North American Spine Society and has been published in medical journals, has a love of circus. “I grew up in a blue-collar family and was the first to attend college. But I kept hearing the siren call of the circus. I arranged a leave of absence from the University of Maryland Medical School and ran away with the circus.”
For five years, he lived the nomadic life, traveling with bus-and-truck companies. After starting in concessions, he graduated to clowning and, self-taught by watching, segued to trampoline and trapeze acts. On his retirement from medical practice, he says “I wanted to do something different and challenging, so I ran away with the circus again.”
This time “it took a village,” states Dr. Kahanovitz. Compass Partners, a Sarasota-based investment firm led by managing partner Richard Perlman, formed Big Top Works and “our investors built a sustainable business plan to not only bring back but also revitalize the Big Apple Circus to restore it to its proper place in New York culture.” The team includes industry veteran Larry Solheim, BAC former vice president and general manager.
The 40th Anniversary BAC show is directed by Mark Lonergan, artistic director of New York’s award-winning theater company Parallel Exit, with choreography and associate direction by Antoinette DiPietropolo. Rob Slowick returns to music direct his big little band. Broadway’s Rob Bissinger is scenic designer and the dazzling costumes are by Amy Clark.
All in all, the return of the Big Apple Circus is the perfect holiday season escape with its astonishing tent of wonder! Purchase tickets, from $35 – $150 VIP ringside tickets, at the Damrosch Park box office or at www.BigAppleCircus.com, where you can find the varying schedules, community outreach programs with reduced-priced admission, and special family events.
What happens in New York will not stay in New York. Traditional circus will be alive and well following the New York engagement with tour stops that include stops in Atlanta, Boston, the D.C. area, Baltimore, and other cities.