The Big Apple Circus, founded in 1976 innovates within several distinct, but interrelated, circus traditions: the classic European one-ring circus, the legacy and influence of the Pickles Family Circus (itself related to the work of the San Francisco Mime Troupe), and some versions of the American travelling circus.
Each year, a new, different show; each year, audiences are given a kind of “grand tour” of what is state of the art in circus artistry by master performers in their métier from around the world. And all of it, in one, intimate ring, beneath a tent that feels like the private performance pavilion of King Solomon’s palace, wherein, without exaggeration, every seat is a great seat.
This year’s show, The Grand Tour, evokes “the roaring 20’s” and references the traditional tour of Europe formerly taken mainly by the upper class. But this is “The People’s” Grand Tour, one that knows no distinction of class, because it is made with an imagination that is universal and for all; of course, because it is taken in the company of clowns.
The Grand Tour is playing through January 10, 2016, at Lincoln Center Plaza in New York City. The show runs 1 hour and 50 minutes including a 20-minute intermission.
The show’s narrative tableau happens in a setting of ships, trains, automobiles, and airplanes; in this setting, the acts are performed to accompaniment by the seven-piece Big Apple Circus Band playing music composed especially for the show. The show features:
- hula hooper Chiara Anastasini (ninth-generation circus artist from Italy),
- juggler Alexander Koblikov (internationally recognized for his innovative work; this is his first appearance in the United States),
- the acrobat “Energy Trio” (from China’s famous Flag Circus),
- “Wheel of Wonder” artists, the Dominguez Brothers,
- the Zuma Zuma African Acrobats,
- the Dosov Troupe (teeterboard), and,
- from Moscow, Sergei Akimov (specialist of the aerial straps).
The Grand Tour achieves its particular coherence and fluidity, in performance, due to its writing and direction, in concert with the tasteful simplicity and elegance of the costumes, and with the sound design. This coherence is due, as well, to the fact that Joel Jeske, the show’s writer and creator (also one its two clowns), and Mark Lonergan, the show’s director, along with Brent McBeth (the other clown), all work closely together as members of the physical comedy troupe . In collaboration, these three give the whole show a clown’s point of view.
Speaking of a clown’s point of view, it is said that Beroka Hoza’ah, one of the characters in the Talmud, was told by Elijah the Prophet that clowns have a choice portion in “the world to come” Why? “Because they make people laugh.” And, to paraphrase a maxim of Jewish tradition, the world is sustained by the laughter and joy of children at the circus.