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Big Apple Circus: “The Grand Tour”

This year, The Big Apple Circus is back for their 38th season and almost all the acts are completely different from last year. And that includes a dynamite technical juggler, namely Alexander Koblikov from Ukraine (upcoming article/interview coming soon).

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After a dazzling company opening in which each act comes out and simultaneously does one trick (you don’t know where to look), the perennial ringmaster, John Kennedy Kane (who was a pro clown for over 15 years) gives his spiel about how we’re going on a world tour ala 1920’s with flappers and Charleston tunes. The 7-piece live band adds greatly to the effect.

12365992_10153841553149809_1265385762608924536_oThe first and best clown skit, ‘Feeling Hot,’ is written by and performed by Joel Jeske, the creator of the circus’ theme, and director and author of all the original clown bits. This skit, performed together with Brent McBeth, fits the theme, traveling on a world tour, now by ship, and sees him looking out the port-hole and getting a face full of salt water. It’s impossible not to laugh. When he brings the next bucket dangerously close to the audience, (no, not a bucket of confetti for the audience as expected), it lands squarely in his own face again somehow.

The other four clown skit links were also good but not quite as effective or funny. He’s very good at choosing a member of the audience and getting a child on stage and smiling and doing something cool.

Next up, the Juggler! Yay!  A technical juggler, double yay! A technical juggler who only works with three-inch, plastic, white balls – triple yay?

Alex uses Russian balls, or sand-balls, traditional Soviet plastic balls filled with a couple of tablespoons of sand, or in Alex’s case, bird seed.

Alex is wearing a sailor outfit. It fits with the theme of the show. He begins by swaying like he’s very tired (or drunk) after a long voyage.

Then, while holding two balls he kicks a third up (from the floor and moved to the space on top of his foot near the toes) and begins contact juggling with the one. It rolls it the full length of his body from hand to hand and back, over and around his back, and up to the top of his sailor cap and stalls there. It rolls around his head then back to his hands. He begins his three ball routine. With one hand behind the back, a cascade on the right side, back to a head throw, a stall, two on the head, contact with one while the other two rest on the sailors cap, back to three with back-crosses including multiplex splits.

Back to back-crosses, up to the hat, stall, and down the back into a blind cascade behind the back.

A throw to the foot, catch on top of the toes, back up, and into a full complement of every third throw is a foot throw, then the same ball back and forth from foot to hand then from foot up to head, stall on the cap, then his whole body down into a seamless full split and back up to standing upright and continuing with hand and foot juggling but this time a cascade using his one hand and one foot,  to a behind the back through the legs catch, roll the ball up the back of the spine, up to the cap and back to hand and foot juggling, then pause for applause.

Between the foot juggling, head stalls and splits he basically takes a strong three-ball routine and makes it totally unique. The up and down splits are sensational, he’s essentially turning his body into a prop and juggling it.

Another split, back up to five balls (he plucks the other two from the floor a moment before he bounces back up from the split), cascade, mulitplex splits and stacks, five ball mills mess and an amazing five balls on the side (one arm behind the back ala Jay Gilligan).

A bit of shtick to draw attention to, and set up for his final trick (yes, the whole routine is four minutes long including the set-up shtick). He makes a point of tossing each ball up from his toe so you can count to ten. An 11th ball is left on the ground, pregnant pause and he kicks it away. We shall have to make due with ten.
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With ten balls he throws fourteen throws of a multiplex stack cascade (a five ball cascade with two balls in each hand for each throw and catch). To have the time to catch each catch and to keep the balls from colliding he has to throw the balls to a height of about 15 feet. It’s a remarkable sight. Of course, what do audience members know about stacks and multiplex, they can’t even count to five. All they know is he’s juggling ten and there are a lot of balls going everywhere, yet a pattern is vaguely recognizable.

The routine is short, sweet, seamless, and flawless, and jugglers and muggles alike can appreciate the beauty of it. He receives strong, well deserved applause.

Next up, the hoop girl. Chiara Anastasini is Italian and ninth-generation circus family, but with this crew she’s a bit out of her league. She does a couple of simple manipulations with one hoop and some decent 2 to 5 hoop work which made me bored and dizzy at the same time.

The show significantly improves after that and sustains the improvement largely until the finale.

12370733_10153841552479809_7469547708745719464_oNext up, Equabralistics. Hand-stands on a series of pegs. The Energy Trio consists of Hongyang Gao, Jing Wang, and of course Yuhao Wu. First of all they’re Chinese so (excuse a little reverse prejudice here) you know it’s got to be good. A three man act, hand-stands on pegs, hand-stands on each other, hand-stands on each other on pegs. Beautiful patterns and remarkable strength.

The trio is part of the Chinese Flag Circus which is the acrobatic troupe of the Chinese army!

Next up, the Colombian giant bow-tie jumpers. Actually the prop (or apparatus) is known as the Wheel of Wonder, or sometimes Wheel of Death. There is no funambulism (high-wire) or flying trapeze this year, so this is the big prop. I’ve seen similar acts many times and if done well it’s truly a spectacle. The crazy thing goes spinning around (no motors or electricity, all muscle and momentum), and the artists, The Dominquez Brothers, run and jump first inside the circles, then outside the circles. It simply has you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

10382270_10153841551924809_9053049267223573924_oI have no criteria for how difficult this act is to practice and perform but there is no net, no spotters, and the slightest mistake will send these hombres plummeting. They reach heights of about 30 feet up at the top of the parabola. If you’re looking for that ‘circus thrill,’ this is the act that delivers it.

Next up, animal trainer Jenny Vidbel, with the only act that was performed last year, and the year before that. She does a dog act in the first half, and horses in the second half. Check your tickets for ‘abbreviated shows’ in which the horse act is cut and there is no intermission (75 minutes total). The full show (w/horse act and intermission) runs two hours.

The last three acts are as follows: African Acro-Balance (also known as ‘Afro-Balance’), a four man team called Zuma Zuma doing hand-stands, human pyramids, and splits on top of each other quite expertly; the Russian Sergey Akimov, with aerial straps, hanging by a thread, spinning around a lot and contorting (he won the Silver Medal at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Deman in Paris); and finally the terrific 8-man, 2-woman, team of teeterboard acrobats, The Dosov Troupe from Belarus. The leader, Dmitriy Dosov, won the Gold Clown at the Circus Festival of Monte Carlo in 2000 while with the Chernievsky Troupe, which he later left to start his own team.

Teeterboard has evolved over the years. It used to be more about landing on a target, or a team-mate’s shoulders, or sometimes landing on a beam held between two or four team members. Now it’s more about what tricks you can do in the air and who cares what you land on (in this case a big pillow).

They do double flips with multiple twists; a triple flips with twists, a double flip while on 5-foot stilts, and a double flip on a flag-pole-chair-thingy.

Sooooo…..

The circus is mainly for families and children. It will be appearing in Manhattan at Lincoln Center til January 10th. The audience (the tent holds 1600 seats) thoroughly enjoyed this show which

I’m happy to say was almost sold-out at both performances that I saw.

Big Apple Circus is largely a traditional circus with new-circus influence. So there is a ring, a ringmaster, a repeating clown segue, animal acts, and it’s in a tent. But there are also elements and influence of new-circus. A minimal amount of animal acts and only domestic animals. And a story line or theme. The days of a guy getting into a cage with a bunch of tigers and panthers and lions and leopards are nearing an end in this country. And don’t even think about dancing bears. Well, let’s not be nostalgic. Or sarcastic.

So if you’re a juggler, go get your act together fast. The circus is still an option. Yay!

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About

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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