If the word circus conjures up freaky clowns and carny sideshows, think again.
The Big Apple Circus, now at Lincoln Center, is an artistic wonder. The acts are eye-popping, beautifully executed and thematic. This year, Joel Jeske has created and Mark Lonergan, artistic director of Parallel Exit, directed "The Grand Tour" with panache.
In the 1920s, it was common for the one percent to travel in luxury, in a style almost inconceivable today. The adventure employed all modern transport: trains, planes, ships and cars. The design motif was art deco, the service impeccable and the fashions uber-glam.
Big Apple Circus' "Grand Tour" hopes to tap into some of that excitement. Led by ringmaster John Kennedy Kane and a live seven-piece band, the journey, which takes audiences from New York to the Mideast, Europe to Asia, features amazing jugglers, animal and clown acts, acrobats and hold-your-breath aerialists, especially on the Wheel of Wonder.
With every seat less than 50 feet from the stage, there is a sense of intimacy impossible at larger, three-ring endeavors. Writer/creator Joel Jeske explains what makes "The Grand Tour" unique.
Is "The Grand Tour" a departure thematically from other shows?
The Big Apple Circus presents a new production every year. Their themes in the past have ranged from Wild West shows to 1001 Arabian Nights. The Big Apple Circus audience expects a different circus every year and loves the new ways the circus can weave story and theme into the acts. The Big Apple Circus is a unique circus experience -- an intimate performance with top-level design, music and acts. We give audience members personal attention.
What was the inspiration for "The Grand Tour"?
Big Apple Circus is traditional; we don't rely on pyrotechnics or video light shows to wow our patrons. We create performer-based spectacles. "The Grand Tour" celebrates the joy of discovering the world through travel. The world today does seem very small, due to current technology, but the spirit of adventure still lives inside all of us.
By focusing on the means of transportation: ship, train, auto and plane, we are able to take families on a fast-paced circus ride that blends the entertainment demand of today's audiences with traditional circus performance.
Setting the show in the 1920s was the perfect fit. The music, the dance, the fashion, the comedy of that era is remembered as wild good times and unfettered celebration. Nothing says the circus like a jubilantly wild party.
Does the band play any or all-original music?
The music for Big Apple Circus is always a blend of original composition and recognizable songs and melodies. Big Apple works with a number of composers and arrangers to create their special live sound. This year, musical director Rob Slowik worked with three different composers and arranged all the music for our red-hot jazz band.
Are the performers Big Apple Circus regulars or are there specialty acts for specific incarnations of the show?
The Big Apple Circus prides itself on hiring world-class circus acts every year, and we get constant requests for acts to join us. In the cast this year, we are welcoming back some acts, like our aerial strap act and teeterboard troupe, as well as introducing new ones, such as our Chinese handstand act, Russian juggler and sultry hula-hoopist.
Our ringmaster, horse act and dog act are rare in the sense that they have enjoyed several seasons under the Big Apple Circus Big Top. With every subsequent production, we try to pick acts that would most fit with our theme and offer audiences fresh new talent.
Photo: Maike Schulz