A Big Apple Circus with worldwide flair
(Bertrand Guay/Big Apple Circus) By Terry Byrne, Globe Correspondent
April 4, 2011 Dance On!’’ this year’s installment of the Big Apple Circus, combines a playful sense of rhythm with the company’s trademarked mix of talented circus acts. This year’s show, under the big tent at City Hall Plaza, celebrates the best of Big Apple while sprucing up the look and feel of the circus with an award-winning choreographer, costume designer, and set designer. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes, particularly in the first act, are truly inspired, with every glittering outfit sporting patches that look as if they’d been snipped out of a Big Apple Circus poster. Although the circus is always filled with international acts, this year’s troupe seemed especially wide-ranging, including performers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Russia, and Mongolia. Among the many impressive acts in “Dance On!’’ are the 10 members of the Wuqiao acrobatic troupe, who do some wild tricks — including jumping rope — while riding monocycles only to return later with a lasso twirling routine that involves tumbling through the lassos while they spin. Girma Tshehai, a gymnast as well as a juggler from Ethiopia, performs a fascinating juggling act in which he bounces the balls on angled planes, creating hypnotic patterns, particularly when they glow in the dark. The Kenyan Boys create a high-energy balancing act involving climbing and balancing on a pole and on each other in pyramid formations, all choreographed with a sense of precision and a musical groove. This year’s animal act includes goats riding horses and a dozen miniature horses, as well as a cute collection of dogs, led by Jenny Vidbel. A contortionist act from Mongolia, X Bud Roses Troupe, made me squeamish with the performers’ ability to bend in ways that don’t seem possible, let alone natural, and longtime Big Apple performer Andrey Mantchev creates an impressive hand-balancing routine while suspended on a small platform raised about 10 feet off the ground. Part clown, part juggler Rob Torres, looking like a cross between early Jerry Lewis and Pee-wee Herman, captures applause in a box, tosses hats, juggles cups, and generally encourages an atmosphere of childlike goofiness in his interactions with the audience. Even more than ringmaster Kevin Venardos, clown Mark Gindick, doing some manic dance routines, helps with transitions between scenes and keeps the dance theme going. Musical director Rob Slowik leads the six-piece band through some wonderful percussive numbers. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Big Apple Circus without Grandma, and my 4-year-old companions, Seamus and Stephen Hurley, squealed with delight at all of her antics, especially her “Workout’’ routine in which she stumbled through different dance moves on a treadmill, and her low-wire routine in which she flew around the circus ring. Like most siblings, they had different ideas about their favorite act, with Stephen leaning toward Regina Dobrovitskaya’s gasp-inducing high-altitude swing routine, while Seamus couldn’t choose among so many great performances. Ultimately, Big Apple’s ability to induce smiles among audience members both young and old is the true mark of its success.