The simple pleasures

The ageless charm of Big Apple Circus
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  June 25, 2013

LIMBER Kramer at work.

This year’s incarnation of the Big Apple Circus (continuing through July 7 at Ninigret Park in Charlestown) is titled “Legendarium.” Guest director West Hyler has focused on the history of the circus, threading facts and fancies through ringmaster John Kennedy Kane’s narration and projecting them onto the colorful background banners. More evocatively, however, allusions to early circuses permeate the costumes, the music, and even the performance styles of this show.

The oxen-drawn circus wagon, bursting with Big Apple artists, is first upon the scene, with acrobats bouncing off the back of one of the oxen. High overhead, Andrey Mantchev executes trapeze flips, twists, and catches to the live band’s accompaniment of “The Daring Young Man On the Flying Trapeze,” and we learn that Jules Léotard invented the trapeze act and his eponymous outfit.

Just before Jenny Vidbel and her trained horses appear, Kane tells us that the diameter (42 feet) of the circus ring was determined by how far it took a horse to get up to a gallop. If trained horses sound like a yawn, rest assured: they’re always magical. In this case, three black and three light-colored horses do intricate patterns of alternation, with turns and lineups to rival any marching band. The show-capper for this act are the six white ponies that come on toward the end, running behind the horses and among them and doing their own weaves and circles.

The clowns in this show wear wigs and masks, which they show to the audience at the outset and a few other times, perhaps to allay the fears of any children (or adults) who have clown phobia. Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone call themselves “Acrobuffos,” though the buffoon is more evident, especially in the ballooning hips of Gelsone, who manages to also bounce on them, during a can-can sequence. Their rapport with the audience (yes, guests are prodded onstage) is tight, and their comic scenes are engaging.

Contortionist Elayne Kramer, who shoots a crossbow with her toes while in one of her W-shaped poses, and the Quinterion Troupe, whose three men toss and tumble and catch their female acrobat, set up expectations for Zhang Fan on the slack wire. He balances on feet, hands, head, a small ladder, and a unicycle, and he ends by swaying the wire, higher and higher, like a nightmarish swinging bridge, still clinging fast with his feet.

The second half of “Legendarium” has three acts that were as captivating as they were difficult to perform: tango juggling, an aerial duo, and trick riding on bicycles. Emily Weisse and Menno Van Dyke developed their choreography-plus-juggling in 2007, so Van Dyke’s ability to keep five to seven small balls in the air as he is seductively lured into tangoing with Weisse is polished to perfection.

Valeriy Sychev and Malvina Abakarova’s aerial straps duet, “Desire of Flight,” is absolutely jaw-dropping. With a combination of acrobatic and trapeze skills (and without a safety net), Sychev holds and catches Abakarova with one hand, bent legs, his back, or flexed feet, while his other hand holds onto a strap that is pulled high toward the apex of the big top. At one point, Abakarova walks over Sychev’s curled body as if it were a balancing ball, and then the two of them cling tight and spin up and over together. Amazing.

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