Sometimes I think it is much more fun to go to the circus as an adult, rather than a child. You can get your own program, treats and novelties without begging your harried parents. You can even sport a red sponge clown nose -- as my spouse and I did, though he won out by hailing a cab with it still on! I was appalled though, when one of my colleagues spotted me tearing through my blue cotton candy in what I thought was a private moment, while my clown was out getting some air! This kind of surprise sighting can occur at The Big Apple Circus anytime, due to its intimacy and human scale. With just one ring to pay attention to, nothing gets lost and the humor and intensity are magnified in this simple setting.
Has the Big Apple Circus really been around 33 seasons? It still seems like the new and "liberal" thing to do, with many fewer animals than some city dwellers I know (not really) -- and all is clearly cruelty free and non- arduous. Actually I think my dog, Nora, would put out more in the fancy foot work to secure the treats than the little furballs they pranced out. It was impressive to see goats riding ponies, with no beast any the worse off for it. For some reason, at the end of the segment, a giant white equine was released to bound about a little too closely by the stands, maybe to warn us that we better take the animal event seriously, after all. I did, covering my head with giddy tittering. Jenny Vidbel handled the creatures, both large and small.
This edition, Dance On! featured the beloved Grandma the Clown (Barry Lubin), looking exactly like Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie, albeit dressed in schmattas. She was a very comforting figure for those of us who are not always at ease with the "Sad Clown" imagery.
Begging for our approval was Rob Torres, plying his skills as a juggler with his magic box -- giving new meaning to the expression Hat-Trick as he delightfully manipulated us with his faux-insecure entreaties. Juggler Girma Tshehai, with orange balls as his main prop, kept upping the ante thus achieving an overreaching balancing act.
The bulk (literally) of the show included death (or at least neck) defying acts by an international cast of acrobats. The X Bud Roses Troupe were like Barbie Dolls on steroids, as they practiced their multi-level contortion project with smiles on their faces, leaving me with a feeling that their bodies were separate from their selves, leaving no room for human error.
We were thrilled by The Wuqiao Acrobatic Troupe, as the young men used their single wheel vehicles in ways my husband called almost scientifically impossible -- stunts of balance and physics.
With the assistance of a thin wire and no net, Regina Dobrovitskaya engaged in what is the scariest part of the show with her aerial poses and much flouncing around up there. I was relieved when it was over and she was no longer in danger of slipping or being garroted.
Grinning fearlessly, The Kenyan Boys created human pyramids and hung on to each other as if their group feats were just a lark. They were much less serious than the contortionists.
The backstage people involved in bringing us the spectacle this year were new, with artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy and his guest director Eric Michael Gillett, who also conceived Dance On!, selecting the acts and bringing in JP Perreaux on sound and Paul Rolnick for some added music. Gillett is well known to circus fanciers for his years as ringmaster at the other shop out there. Kevin Venardos was a terrific ringmaster himself, cutting a dashing figure peppered with humor and a good singing voice. We could have used more of him, as his role seemed quite limited.
Finally, as to the title Dance On! -- this was no ballet show -- the dancing being a jolly milling of the cast to an upbeat track of crowd pleasing Disco and Pop with a dash of "New Age."
The Big Apple Circus's Dance On! runs through Jan. 9 in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center; (888) 541-3750; bigapplecircus.org.