Review: Big Apple reminds us how magical a circus can be

“Who wants to fly?”

The booming question was directed at Big Apple Circus audience members one recent chilly February night, shortly after they’d witnessed a stunning balancing act in which a man jumped rope atop a constantly moving platform.

A blond girl in the first row tentatively raised her hand, the kind of gesture that’s made when the answer is “yes” but the person can’t imagine a world in which they’d actually do it. When one of the show’s two slapstick clowns indicated that she was in fact the chosen one, she shot the woman beside her a quick terrified glance before making her way down the aisle.

She was scooped into the arms of a clown, who was attached to the ceiling by a long wire. They became airborne, spinning around the ring at a safe speed as the girl clung to him tightly, an experience she’ll surely not soon forget.

“Only at the circus do we turn our children over to strangers!” a woman shouted to the stranger next to her, while the flying girl’s presumed mom happily captured the moment on a camera phone.

It wasn’t clear if the woman’s comment was meant to pass judgment or give props, but her point was valid: The circus is a place where Murphy’s Law flat-out doesn’t seem to exist. The unique dynamic allows parents to drop their guards and children to experience possibly the most spectacular sights of their young lives. For instance, watching a contortionist use her foot to aim a bedazzled bow and arrow while balancing on her hands in an amazing Egyptian eye-like shape. Everyone cheered when her target, a balloon, popped.

The Big Apple Circus was founded in 1977 after Paul Binder and Michael Christensen, who worked as street performers in Europe, desired an alternative to the “glitz and spectacle of the American three-ring circus,” as circus materials tell it. Now in its 40th anniversary season, a 60-foot-tall tent that can accommodate more than 1,500 people was raised at Verizon Amphitheatre on Jan. 19.

No seat is farther than 50 feet away from the ring, making for an intimate show with acts that command one’s full attention for two hours. When an animal trainer led horses and ponies around the ring’s perimeter, the squeals from some front-row guests indicated their seats were perhaps even too close for comfort.

Big Apple maintains a “no wild or exotic animals” policy, and also demonstrates a social conscience by offering special performances for guests with disabilities. Distinguishing features like that are important during a time when the circus industry is struggling with attendance.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently shut down after 146 years, and Big Apple Circus filed for bankruptcy in 2016. (The company was acquired by BigTop Works last year.) At a recent Thursday night show, there was a smattering of empty seats for a magical performance that deserves a sold-out audience every time.

The tour’s headlining act is the Wallendas Seven Person Pyramid, led by high-wire artist Nik Wallenda, who has walked across Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. The family’s dangerous feat of crossing a high wire in a seven-person pyramid came with a disclaimer about its deadly history and a request for no noise until they’ve safely dismounted on the other side, causing guests to hold their breath. Watching the members coordinate their movements as one was thrilling.

Another seldom-attempted trick came from Ammed Tuniziani, who tried to complete a quadruple somersault on the trapeze. The effort failed when his hands didn’t connect with his partner’s after the midair tumbles, causing him to fall to the net. The crowd hollered anyway, perhaps feeling oddly reassured by the mistake. It served as a reminder that no matter how unbelievably talented these performers are, and as effortless as their artistry can appear, that doesn’t mean it comes easy.

Toward the end of the show, ringmaster Ty McFarlan said something to the effect of: “As long as people like you need to laugh and wonder, the circus will be here.”

Then the performers walked out to the lobby and, like celebrities, posed for pictures with the awestruck guests.


Big Apple Circus

Wednesdays through Sundays through Feb. 25. $30-$99. Lot A at Verizon Amphitheatre, 1775 Founders Parkway, Alpharetta. An “Embracing Autism Performance” will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Go Guide

Is your dog ready to be an Instagram star?
Is your dog ready to be an Instagram star?

Oh, Tuna, you really do have it all: a quirky breed name (a Chiweenie!), everydog imperfections (that overbite!), the sad-sack countenance (I mean, if Buster Keaton were a dog …). You even have the heartwarming back story: a rescue, adopted from a farmers market in Los Angeles. No wonder you have become the canine equivalent of a Kardashian...
Louis Armstrong: Gentle jazz giant and first U.S. black superstar
Louis Armstrong: Gentle jazz giant and first U.S. black superstar

One of this country’s first black superstars, trumpet player Louis Armstrong had an immeasurable influence on jazz, popular music, pop culture and race relations. He transformed jazz with his powerful solo trumpet, which was at once musically advanced, soulful, rich and irresistible. And as the first virtuoso on his instrument, he also changed...
Concert review and photos: The Revolution remembers Prince with taut musicianship in Atlanta
Concert review and photos: The Revolution remembers Prince with taut musicianship in Atlanta

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene Prince is gone , but The Revolution continues. The quintet famous for backing Prince during his commercially massive ‘80s period – “Purple Rain,” “Around the World in a Day” and “Parade” – has been helping fans adjust to his loss since...
Lisa Marie Presley sues ex-manager contending he lost her $100 million fortune
Lisa Marie Presley sues ex-manager contending he lost her $100 million fortune

Lisa Marie Presley is suing her former manager, Barry Siegel, for “reckless and negligent mismanagement” of her inherited estate, but her estranged husband was quick to call her so-called mountain of debt a lie. >> Read more trending news  Presley inherited $100 million from her rock ‘n’ roll father Elvis Presley...
BET starts production of ‘The Bobby Brown Story’ biopic in Atlanta
BET starts production of ‘The Bobby Brown Story’ biopic in Atlanta

Woody McClain played Bobby Brown for “The New Edition Story” and is now shooting “The Bobby Brown Story.” CREDIT: (left) BET and (right) album cover Posted Saturday, February 24, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog BET, riding off the success of 2017’s &ldquo...
More Stories