Big Apple Circus “Legendarium” Combines Old-Time Charm With Modern Acts


Big Apple Circus contortionist Elayne Kramer

Big Apple Circus contortionist Elayne Kramer.

There are some things in life every child should have an opportunity to experience, and a good, old-fashioned circus is one of them. Big Apple Circus, especially with this year’s “Legendarium” theme fits the bill. This small, one-ring circus, emphasizes a close connection with the audience and is actually under a “big top” tent rather than in a stadium. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good three-ring circus as well, but there are many advantages to the intimate nature of a smaller circus experience.

As much as I am a technology geek, I fear that our generation of children is forgetting about how to be an audience. I’ve seen kids bringing handheld games and smart phones with games to movie theaters to stave off boredom during the movie! And with the special effects of live performances becoming more sophisticated than they were in the movies we watched as kids, it is easy to see how they can become jaded with simpler fare.

Horses rear for trainer Jenny Vidbel at the Big Apple Circus.

Horses rear for trainer Jenny Vidbel at the Big Apple Circus.

With a smaller circus, the focus is on live performers (human as well as some animals) who often involve the audience. Clowns run around the raised perimeter of the ring, interacting with audience members on the front row. Performers come down the aisles. Horses run fast and furious, at one point kicking up dirt right onto my son’s hair and shirt. When we clap, the performers actually see us, and seeing their smiles make the children clap harder. Yes, my family got to sit in the front row, a perk of being part of the reviewing media, but even the furthest away seat (16 rows back) was only 50 feet from the ring! This is the perfect venue to train young children to appreciate the purity of a simple circus and to retrain the over-exposed in the wonder of a trapeze act — after all, they will get a close-up view of the logistics behind the ropes and pullies involved!

Ringmaster John Kennedy Kane keeps the show moving with stories of circus "Legendarium."

Ringmaster John Kennedy Kane keeps the show moving with stories of circus “Legendarium.”

Simple doesn’t mean boring, however. This year’s theme, Legendarium, takes the audience back in history and reminds us of the roots behind some of the acts that are still popular now. For example, Ringmaster John Kennedy Kane explains that circus rings are 42 feet because that is exactly the dimension a horse needs to reach a full gallop. And gallop they do, under the direction of trainer Jenny Vidbel. We experience the antics of old-fashioned clowns (Acrobuffs) who wear masks rather than makeup and traditional trapeze artists and a gorgeous contortionist act by Elayne Kramer with a fantastic finish.

And there are modern acts as well. Zhang Fan’s slack wire act is a personal favorite of mine, in fact, it was at the Big Apple Circus a few years ago that I first saw the slack wire before the art became popularized by its appearance Madonna’s Super Bowl performance. Another don’t miss opportunity is to see a Roue Cyr Wheel acrobatic performance (a roue cyr wheel is a large wheel that is often used for an acrobat to spin inside of or have spin around him or her) by the creator himself, Daniel Cyr.

If the enjoyment of this two-hour, one-ring circus were not reason enough to attend, consider the fact that the circus itself is a vehicle for community change.

The Big Apple Circus is a performing arts not-for-profit with five outreach programs:

  • Circus After School: A 12-week program for at-risk kids that teaches them life skills including team work and confidence while putting together a show.
  • Clown Care: They say laughter is the best medicine, and this program takes that into account, with 80 professional artists doing “clown rounds” with doctors. These “clown doctors” are trained in specific hygienic practices and protocols and in special issues related to interacting with hospitalized children and collaborate with doctors and staff to design a program that fits the needs of each hospital.
  • Circus for All: Every time I get to attend an event, I think “I wish every child could see this.”  Through grants and contributions from individuals and institutions the Big Apple Circus works to  fund free and discounted tickets for children facing economic hardship, physical disabilities, and other challenges.
  • Circus of the Senses: What is a circus like if you cannot see or hear it? The Big Apple Circus found ways to make attending the circus an inclusive experience for those who are visually and hearing impaired with wireless headsets, a play-by-play description of the action in the ring by Circus Founder and Co-Founder Paul Binder and Michael Christensen, American Sign Language interpreters strategically positioned in spotlights to sign throughout the performances, distributing descriptive large-print or Braille descriptive programs in advance, and sensory tours of the circus.
  • Vaudeville Caravan: Circus performances are truly for all ages. An offshoot of Clown Care, this program brings performers to nursing care facilities and combats the loneliness and isolation many elderly face today.

As an animal lover, I appreciated knowing what their animal care policy is.

The Big Apple Circus is in the Dulles Area through October 8 with tickets ranging in price from $25 – $75 (and remember, the furthest row is 16 rows back). Check out their site for prices and availability of seats.


Disclosure: The PR company for The Big Apple Circus provided me with four tickets so my family could attend the show for review purposes. As a long-time paying customer of the show, this did not influence my opinion nor color my review. My kids also received foam clown noses. 


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