I've been going to see the Big Apple Circus' annual show at Lincoln Center since I was my seven-year-old daughter's age, and I admit, I'm not great with change. So last year when the troupe's veteran clown, Grandma, said goodbye, I worried that Big Apple would never be the same. And you know what? It's not—it's much better. No offense to the old girl, but an infusion of fresh blood is clearly what this circus needed. In terms of acts, pacing and overall thrills, Legendarium is one of Big Apple's freshest productions in years.
Legendarium dispenses with plot and puts the focus where it belongs: On the performers. Yes, you've probably seen other people fly high on silks, juggle balls and contort their bodies into painful looking shapes, but rarely with such ease or in such close proximity. With no seat more than 50 feet from the stage, Big Apple shows are way more intimate than those by Cirque du Soleil or Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey. If you're ringside, you can literally see the stars sweat (and smell the horses poop) but even those in the last row are treated to a fairly up close look at the action, which really keeps young kids engaged.
The theme of this year's show is the history of the circus in New York City (which also happens to be the subject of the Bard Graduate Center's current exhibit Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010, in case you want to learn more). But jovial ringmaster John Kennedy Kane never lapses into lecture mode and keeps things moving. There really are no duds in the lineup, but my family's favorites were Emily Weisse and Menno Van Dyke, a tango/juggling duo with a meticulously choreographed routine; the outrageous bicycle tricks of the all-girl Dalian Troupe from China; contortionist/hand balancer Elayne Kramer who apparently was born without bones; enthusiastic slack wire master Zhang Fan, who did a fist pump every time he landed a trick; and the Acrobuffos, a couple of lowbrow masked clowns who took over Grandma's old spot with pratfalls, pranks and lots of audience participation.
Another reason I prefer Big Apple to Cirque du Soleil or Ringling Bros? It's less pretentious than the former and it doesn't have any wild animals like the latter, just Jenny Vidbel's domesticated horses and dogs. The pups are always a hit, and they're all rescues. Legendarium's vivid production design also deserves a special mention. Award-winning Broadway set designer John Lee Beatty, lighting designer Howell Binkley and costume designer Mirena Rada worked together to evoke various NYC landmarks, like the Brooklyn Bridge. It's a wonderful celebration of our city and a reminder of what a circus it's always been.
Big Apple Circus: Legendarium is playing through Sunday, January 13, 2013 at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park, 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Tickets are $25-$175 but you can save up to 25% on select performances by using the Broadwaybox discount code.
Find out about other fun things to do this season in our Fall Fun Guide.
All photos courtesy of Big Apple Circus.