Beyond Ringling: Best New Circus Shows for NYC Kids This Season
You may have heard that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is currently wowing audiences (and angering animal rights activists) at the Barclays Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. But they're not the only big top in town. Circus season in the city is only getting started with ten different and diverse spectacles (in addition to Ringling) set to hit NYC between now and May.
Whether you're looking to splurge on a brand-new sensory-overload extravaganza by Cirque du Soleil or looking for a more traditional circus experience like the Big Apple Circus, there's a show coming up that's right for your family. There are also options for first-time circus-goers, like the low-key and low-priced Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, as well as troupes that don't use animals at all, including two all-human circus shows at the New Victory Theater. We've even got the scoop on how your little circus performers can get a chance in the spotlight in an upcoming Coney Island show. Here's where you can run away and see the circus in NYC this spring.
Cirque Ziva – Flatbush
Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, Walt Whitman Theatre at Brooklyn College, 2900 Campus Road near Kenilworth Place
Saturday, March 9 at 3pm
China's Golden Dragon Acrobats swing into town for one performance only. Athletic feats are the focus here, like hand-to-hand and bicycle balancing, plate juggling and spinning, and aerial arts, all performed in gorgeous traditional costumes. This trailer gives you a peek at the awesome action. A great introduction to China's take on the ancient art of circus.
Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Cabaret – Park Slope
Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 Fourth Avenue between Union and President Streets
Saturday, March 15-Sunday, March 16 at 3pm
$12, family four-pack $40
I'm a huge fan of (and, full disclosure, good friends with) the founders of this homegrown variety troupe. Their style is pure old-school vaudeville, a little edgy but still kid-friendly. You may have caught them at SummerStage or Lincoln Center Out of Doors Family Day in previous years. Expect juggling, the diabolo, unicycling, Ringmistress Philomena's signature joke and whip-cracking, and Kinko the Clown's silly silent antics. Note: Although the Bindlestiffs are performing four evenings in a row at the Brooklyn Lyceum, only the matinees are family-friendly!
Cirque du Soleil: Amaluna – Queens
Citi Field, 126-01 Roosevelt Avenue near 126th Street
Thursday, March 20-Sunday, May 18. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Cirque du Soleil's over-the-top shows always deliver spectacular visuals, amazing circus skills and grand pretensions. Love them or hate them, there's nothing quite like them and I'm particularly excited about this new show, which takes girl power to a whole new level. In addition to being directed by 2013 Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus (the current circus-themed Pippin), Amaluna features an overwhelmingly female cast and a plot inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest. Goddess Prospera is overseeing a coming-of-age ceremony for her daughter on their island nation. But when young men suddenly arrive, their presence sets off an epic power struggle and love story. Sound highfalutin? Don't worry, the plot is most likely incomprehensible anyway. Cirque is all about style, not story.
UniverSoul Circus – the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens
Thursday, March 20-Sunday, April 6 at 149th and Exterior Streets across from the Gateway Center in the Bronx
Thursday, April 10-Sunday, April 27 at Aviator Sports at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn
Thursday, May 1-Sunday, May 11 at Roy Wilkins Park, Merrick and Baisley Boulevards in Queens
$16-$48, 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. The Zhukau Acrobatic Troupe is from Belarus, straps aerialist Jean-Claude Belmat is from Paris and there's a group of Caribbean Dancers. That said, there's a lot of American 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.
Knee Deep – Midtown West
The New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Friday, March 21-Sunday, March 30. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Performed by the Casus Circus from Brisbane, Australia, this show isn't about flashy costumes or sets. Instead, the four performers captivate with their enviable balancing, aerial and physical comedy skills in this hour-long revue. This trailer gives a good idea of what to expect. It's definitely aimed at more mature kids (suggested age range is 7 and up) who aren't looking for constant stimulation.
Bindlestiff Cavalcade of Youth – Coney Island
Coney Island, USA, 1208 Surf Avenue at West 12th Street
Sunday, March 23 at 4pm
$15 for adults, $10 for children under 21
The aforementioned Bindlestiff Family Cirkus is also behind this one-afternoon-only performance featuring variety performers under age 21. The acts (and kids' ages) really run the gamut, from little kids just starting out (my daughter did a hula hoop act back when she was six) to teens who seem serious about pursuing a circus career. It's quite a thrill for children to see their peers up on stage. Does your kid have a cool routine that's ready for the big top time? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your child's name, age, act description and any questions to sign up to perform. No audition required! No pay, either, beyond minimal tips and lots of applause.
Bello Mania – Midtown West
The New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Friday, April 4-Sunday, April 20. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
My daughter and I saw Bello Mania last year and I'm so glad it's back for an encore performance. Equal parts comedic circus spectacle and family memoir, it's the perfect showcase for former Ringling Bros./Big Apple Circus clown/acrobat Bello Nock, who was born to a circus family. The production features new schtick, recreations of some of his ancestors' greatest hits and appearances by his daughter, who's continuing in the family show business. The highlight: When Bello climbs all the way to the New Vic ceiling on a swaying pole right over the audiences' heads. Bonus: The New Victory Theater is hosting a five-day Circus Kids Week camp over spring break, when children ages 7 to 11 can study juggling, clowning, acrobatics and other big top skills, as well as catch a performance of Bello Mania.
Forces – Williamsburg
Streb at S.L.A.M., 51 N 1st Street near Kent Avenue
Thursday, May 8-Sunday, June 15. Schedule has yet to be determined.
Prices have yet to be determined
Perhaps we're cheating a bit by classifying STREB's movement/theater piece as circus. But just look at some of the feats in this video. Choreographer Elizabeth Streb has the acrobatic members of her Extreme Action Company leap, jump, tumble and fly through the air. Showtimes and prices will be posted here in the coming months.
Jamie Adkins presents Circus Incognitus – Tribeca
Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers Street between Greenwich and West Streets
Sunday, May 18 at 1:30pm
Talk about a minimalist circus! Watch as one very versatile and funny guy conjures an entire big top by himself. My daughter and I saw this show at the New Victory a few seasons back and it's a subtle experience as the mostly silent Adkins balances paper on his nose, uses ladders like stilts, and hands out fruit for the audience to throw at him... every piece of which he catches on a plastic fork.
Big Apple Circus: Luminocity – Queens
Sunday, May 18-Sunday, June 15; Visit the website for a complete schedule
Cunningham Park 196-22 Union Turnpike near Myrtle Avenue
$20-$60, free for children under 3
Set and themed around Times Square, the latest Big Apple Circus show is a real winner. I reviewed it back when it played Lincoln Center last fall and particularly loved Daniel Cyr balancing atop a ladder, teenage juggling prodigy Ty Tojo and vaudeville-style clown Rob Torres, who gets a lot of laughs out of his audience interactions. Click here to read my full post.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus: Legends – Fort Greene
Barclays Center 620 Atlantic Avenue near Flatbush Avenue
Through Sunday, March 2. Visit the website for schedule.
$30 and up
And if you must see Ringling, the troupe is at Barlcays through next weekend. While they may not be everyone's style of circus, this is the company's 144th year, so clearly they have a lot of fans. Expect fantastical creatures like a unicorn, a Pegasus and a woolly mammoth to share the stage with more traditional acts like the flying trapeze, motorcyclists braving the wheel of death (here called the Globe of Steel), a high-wire routine, and those ever controversial elephants and wildcats. Live in the 'burbs? After its Brooklyn run, Legends heads to Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and then the Prudential Center in Newark.
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. We also have a great post about circus arts classes for kids in NYC.