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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Circus life works for performer with Jersey roots
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
BY MIKE KERWICKThe RecordSTAFF WRITER
WHERE: Lincoln Center/Damrosch Park, 62nd Street between Columbus Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan; 800-922-3772.
HOW MUCH: $15-$92.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: bigapplecircus.org.
Jenny Vidbel had just finished telling us about the highlight of her act – a goat riding a pony – which led to this inevitable follow-up:
How do you get a goat to ride a pony?
"They're very food motivated," Vidbel said during a recent phone interview.
When it comes to motivational carrots, goats like actual carrots. Or hay. Or apples.
But when Vidbel wants one of her three goats to ride atop one of her 12 white ponies, she relies on a special concoction. She puts together an enticing mixture of corn, grain and molasses.
Before you know it, you have a goat riding around on a pony.
Vidbel, an equestrian trainer and presenter with the Big Apple Circus, will have 10 minutes to floor the audience during the organization's performance of "Dance On!" After a three-week tuneup run in Manville, the show opens at Lincoln Center on Thursday, with performances running into January.
"It's a real intimate setting," Vidbel said. "Everyone in the audience is up close and involved in all of the action."
There is lots of action. The show includes Chinese acrobats, an Ethiopian juggler, Mongolian contortionists and a Bulgarian hand-balancer.
And, of course, there is Vidbel – a third-generation circus performer whose family has roots here in Jersey. Her grandfather grew up in Trenton before running off to join Ringling Brothers, where he met Vidbel's grandmother.
Vidbel said it was never a question of what she loved most about the circus, what kept her tethered to this line of work.
"I think the question is, 'What would make me want to leave?' " Vidbel said. "It's such an exciting life. You meet all different kinds of people."
It is not always easy. The combination of animals and live performances leads to the unpredictable.
"Sometimes they leave," Vidbel said, "and I'm left holding the whip."
But she loves her animals and is constantly in search of new ones. Her current lineup card includes one horse, three goats, six dogs and 12 ponies. A few more animals – including a porcupine – are in training.
The show stays at Lincoln Center until Jan. 9, when the performers get a much-deserved 2 1/2-month break. Vidbel enjoys the time off but is always anxious to get back.
"What's hard is knowing it's coming to an end," Vidbel said. "It's a small group of people and we all become family very close, very fast. Toward the end, it's more of a sad kind of thing."

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