No Net for the Man in Charge
Barry Lubin, better known to circus regulars as Grandma the Clown, flying on wires at the Big Apple Circus, which has a new artistic director, Guillaume Dufresnoy, a former aerialist. By FELICIA R. LEE Published: October 21, 2010
GUILLAUME DUFRESNOY, the artistic director of the Big Apple Circus, has always worked close to the edge, one way or another.
Mr. Dufresnoy began his circus career as an aerialist, making magic with a partner some 45 feet up. This season, after almost two decades in management at Big Apple, he faces his biggest challenge yet. Promoted to artistic director in the midst of a tour last year, he is for the first time responsible for creating a show that both carries on the Big Apple tradition and takes into account a recession-gouged budget in an era of tough competition for family audiences.
At stake is not just Mr. Dufresnoy’s reputation but also a 33-year-old circus whose cachet hinges on intimacy: no seat is more than 50 feet away, and up to 1,700 people can sit in a one-ring tent, compared with the razzle-dazzle of three-ring competitors. Over the years critics have praised the family-oriented, unpretentious Big Apple, whose New York season at Damrosch Park began on Thursday, as a whimsical marriage of traditional theater and classical circus.
“I have inherited a beloved institution: it’s not like, ‘Here’s a circus, do whatever you want with it,’ ” Mr. Dufresnoy said the other day after a performance in Manville, N.J., the previous tour stop. “This is the Big Apple circus! What’s crucial to me is yes, to be a keeper of the flame and yet push the envelope a little bit, go visit slightly new territory.”
One example, he said, is to work with creative teams that are not familiar with the circus. “Next year it will be a team that has done mostly opera,” the French-born Mr. Dufresnoy said in the soft accent of his native Bordeaux. (His surname is pronounced Dew-fren-WAH.). “The following year it will be a very theatrical director. It will give us a variety of styles and images.”
Audiences will decide if he has brought fresh elements to the show, said Dominique Jando, a renowned circus artist, teacher and circus historian who is also a former associate artistic director of Big Apple. “It’s like everything else in show business — does the show jell or not?” Mr. Jando said. “In the case of the Big Apple, they have 50 percent repeat audiences in places like New York and Boston, so they are tougher.”
“I’ve seen Guillaume growing into this business,” Mr. Jando continued. He mentioned a “charming act” created by Mr. Dufresnoy last year that involved two dancers doing acrobatic tricks with dogs, which he called “a good sign” for Big Apple’s future. Much of what is innovative in the circus is happening in Europe these days, he said, where there are more circuses and more circus schools.
Mr. Dufresnoy said he fished for ideas and talent all over the world. This season’s edition, “Dance On!,” is a $3.6 million production about the universality of dance that features 35 people, 13 horses, 3 goats and 5 dogs.
Despite an operating budget that dropped to $17 million from $22 million two years ago, as well as staff layoffs and furloughs, “nothing has changed in the investment in the product,” said the newest lord of the ring. read more at:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/theater/22apple.html?_r=1
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