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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Big Apple Brings in the Clowns

(From left to right) Grandma the Clown (Barry Lubin), aerialists Yana and Oleg Aniskin, and animal handler Michelle Youens take a bow. - Photos by Mimi Yeh
(From left to right) Grandma the Clown (Barry Lubin), aerialists Yana and Oleg Aniskin, and animal handler Michelle Youens take a bow. – Photos by Mimi Yeh

The Big Apple Circus, though small in scale compared to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and lacking the deliberately avant-garde eroticism of Cirque du Soleil, has great heart. Its big draw is the fact that every patron is less than fifty feet from the single ring that is home to llamas, camels, a six-dog troupe of Scottish terriers, and the obligatory prancing ponies. This not-for-profit runs year-round programs such as “Clown Care,” where clown doctors make rounds at pediatric wards with the healing power of humor, and “Circus For All” that annually gives away 50,000 tickets to economically and physically challenged children.

Although the Big Apple Circus cannot boast a wide variety of exotic animals, the acts are no less sophisticated or elaborate in their choreography than those you might find at a bigger circus. The lack of mystique was a large part of the charm, as was the welcoming interaction of characters such as Emerson dropout Barry Lubin, a.k.a. “Grandma the Clown.” Animals and actors alike regularly came within touching distance, to the delight of audience members.

Coming to the circus is a different experience when looking with adult eyes. While a child will look in wonder, dazzled by the spectacle and the sheer novelty of the experience, a grown-up can understand the hours of work that went into a routine, as well as the years of intense training. The performers straddle an odd line between athlete and actor, most of them having come from families with a circus or professional gymnast tradition.

The 2004 theme of “Carnevale” was celebrated with vigor as these artists cavorted about in a manner more flamboyant but simultaneously more innocent than that of the typical Bourbon Street Krewe during the March 31 show. Audrey Mantchev and Virgile Peyramaure “fight” to impress a woman in the audience with their balancing act atop one another. Remaining perfectly poised as he holds Mantchev aloft with one hand, Peyramaure reclines with his body nearly parallel with his partner’s with a casual attitude that belies the intensity of his eyes. For both of them though, it’s just another day at the office.

The Los Aregas, a trio of acrobats, managed to hang intertwined from a pole seemingly based on the strength of a single person’s feet. With hands splayed out and elegant choreography to tunes with Afro-Cuban beats, they still managed the impressive contortionist exploits, working as a single unit. Coordination such as that requires an incredible amount of trust placed in a single human being at any given moment, similar to what the six-person, high-flying Aniskin Troupe must be concerned with when moving back and forth gracefully on the trapeze.

However, my favorite was Alesya Goulevich, a second-generation circus performer and daughter of an aerialist and a clown. In my head, I think of her as the human equivalent of a slinky. Working with a dizzying amount of hula-hoops, she manages to twirl them around her arms, hips, legs, neck, and head in a synchronized blur. The crowning moment of her act was a sudden flourishing of hula-hoops with the talent and smooth delivery of a Vegas casino dealer laying out a row of cards on a table.

You’re never too old to go to the circus. Half the fun is the pageantry, the pomp, and the ceremony, the other half is regaining, if only for a few hours, the ability to look at life with the wonder of a child. The Big Apple Circus will be showing “Carnevale” through May 9 at the Bayside Expo Center. For more information, call (800) 922-3772 or visit the website bigapplecircus.org.

About the Contributor
MiMi Yeh served as arts editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2001-2002; *2002-2003; 2003-2004 *Evan Sicuranza served as arts editor for Fall 2002 Disclaimer: Years served is based on online database and may not detail entire service.