Circus Season in NYC: Ringling, Cirque du Soleil, UniverSoul and Other Spring Circus Shows
For the first time since 2010, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey are coming back to NYC, but a few things have changed since they last hit the Big Apple. The circus' brand-new show, Built to Amaze, will play Brooklyn's brand-new Barclays Center instead of Manhattan's Madison Square Garden, and many readers have been writing in to ask whether they still plan to do their famous (if controversial) elephant parade using a new route.
The answer is: They don't know. We've been in touch with the Ringling folks and an elephant parade is still a possibility, but a final decision won't be made until mid-March. Update: In lieu of a parade, Ringling is hosting an Elephant Dance Party in Dumbo on Wednesday, March 20. Find the info here.
But here's what we know for sure: There are a lot of circus extravaganzas playing New York City this spring, including brand-new shows by Cirque du Soleil, former Ringling star Bello Nock, the return of Legendarium by the Big Apple Circus and more.
Cirque du Soleil: Totem – Queens
Thursday, March 14-Sunday, April 21. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Citi Field, 126-01 Roosevelt Avenue near 126th Street
$45-$265 but you can save a few bucks by using the BroadwayBox discount code.
After bringing Zarkana to Radio City Music Hall for two consecutive summers, the always over-the-top Cirque du Soleil is pitching its signature blue-and-yellow big top at Queens' Citi Field for its brand-new spectacle. Like all of the troupe's shows, it's tough to describe Totem—especially since I haven't seen it yet. Apparently it chronicles the history of human beings from our original amphibian state to our "desire to fly" with many acts inspired by multicultural myths. In other words, it sounds like another one-of-a-kind immersive Cirque du Soleil experience with jaw-dropping feats that need to be seen to be believed. My daughter can't wait to go!
Bello Mania – Midtown West
Friday, March 15-Sunday, March 31. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
The New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
If you're a circus fan, you very well may have seen Bello Nock, the clown with the gravity-defying hair. Born to a circus family, Bello started his career when he was just six-years-old and has spent years touring with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, the Big Apple Circus and other famous troupes all over the world. My daughter and I have seen him twice and what makes him unique is that, not only is his schtick very, very funny, he's able to perform amazing acrobatic feats on the trampoline, the high wire and more. This 70-minute show is the first one he's ever produced himself, and it features a few of his signature acts, plus new routines and a bunch of his performing pals, including an adorable dog doing tricks. Bonus: The New Victory Theater is hosting a five-day Circus Kids Week camp over spring break, where children ages 7 to 10 can study juggling, clowning, acrobatics and other big top skills, as well as catch a performance of Bello Mania. I'm planning to sign my own kid up.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus: Built to Amaze – Fort Greene
Wednesday, March 20-Monday, April 1. Visit the website for schedule.
Barclays Center 620 Atlantic Avenue near Flatbush Avenue
I realize not everyone loves Ringling's style of circus but considering this is the company's 143rd edition, they clearly have a lot of fans. As always, the cast (110 performers and 95 animals) comes from all over the world, and all the iconic acts are on the lineup including the flying trapeze, the wheel of death (here called the Steel Vortex), a high-wire routine and those ever controversial elephants. There are some cool offbeats acts, too, like the King Charles Troupe, whose members play basketball while unicycling, and Elliana Grace, the Human Canon Ball.
UniverSoul Circus – the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens
Wednesday, March 20-Sunday, March 31 at 149th and Exterior Streets across from the Gateway Center in the Bronx
Tuesday, April 2-Sunday, April 14 at Roy Wilkins Park, Merrick and Baisley Boulevards in Queens
Wednesday, April 17-Sunday, April 28 at Aviator Sports at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn
$20-$40, free for children under 1
Although UniverSoul was originally founded to showcase the talents of African-American performers, this year's edition features acts from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Tiger tamer John Jairo Sanchez hails from Ecuador, the Zhukau Acrobatic Troupe is from Belarus and there's a group of Caribbean Dancers. That said, there's a lot of homegrown talent on display too, like ringmaster sidekick Zeke and the Soul Circus Divas and their elephants. It's also the only circus we know of that features a live hip-hop DJ, break-dancing clowns and such an enthusiastic audience.
Popovich Comedy Pet Theater – Tribeca
Saturday, March 30 at 3 and 7pm
Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers Street between Greenwich and West Streets
If your favorite parts of the circus are clowns and creatures, this show's for you. For one day only, catch Gregory Popovich and his humorous animal acts. They run, they jump, they ride scooters, they push each other in prams. Best thing about the show? All 30 of his performing pets, 15 dogs and 15 cats, were rescued from shelters across the country.
Forces! The Movical – Williamsburg
Streb at S.L.A.M., 51 N 1st Street near Kent Avenue
Thursday, April 4-Sunday, April 28. Visit the website for a complete schedule.
$25 for adults, $15 for children under 13
Perhaps we're cheating a bit by classifying STREB's latest movement/theater piece as circus. But just look at that Whizzing Gizmo in our slide show (yes, that is the official name of that massive piece of hardware). Choreographer Elizabeth Streb has the acrobatic members of her Extreme Action Company leap, jump, tumble and fly through the air.
Le Grand C – Midtown West
Thursday, April 18-Sunday, April 28. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
The New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
A group of 17 acrobats perform incredible stunts—tossing, tumbling and building human towers. No big hardware or sequined outfits here; all they've got are their incredible athletic bodies and awesome skills, and it's all set to traditional French music. I'm seeing this show with my daughter's second grade class and I anticipate hearing a lot of, "How did they do thats?!"
Big Apple Circus: Legendarium – Queens
Sunday, May 19-Sunday, June 16; Visit the website for a complete schedule
Cunningham Park 196-22 Union Turnpike near Myrtle Avenue $20-$60, free for children under 3
I reviewed this show when it played Lincoln Center last October and it's truly the best production the Big Apple Circus has done in years. Even though there are many returning acts, the show feels fresh thanks to a great theme (the history of the circus in NYC) and new additions like the hilarious Acrobuffos clowns and an awesome juggling/tango duo. Plus there are majestic horses and adorable dogs.
Also of note for circus buffs: There's a circus-themed exhibit on display at the Morgan Library & Museum, Degas, Miss La La, and the Cirque Fernando, which showcases the artist's paintings of famous 19th-century aerialist Miss La La. I've also had a lot of parents asking me whether they should take their kids to see the upcoming Broadway revival of Pippin, which features Montreal-based circus troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main (the same folks behind the now-closed Off Broadway hit Traces). A word of warning: Due to mature themes and sex scenes, it's recommended for grades six and up. Of course, all parents have their own ideas about what's appropriate for what age, just use your best judgment.
Want to keep up on all the circus shows that pop into New York City throughout the year? Bookmark CircusNYC, a great website that has a comprehensive list of all circus-related performances (not all kid-friendly though!), classes and jobs in the tri-state area.