Led by ringmaster John Kennedy Kane and his sidekick Francescothe clown (Francis Brunaud), the Big Apple Circus has come to Boston, bringing performers from all over the world to display their talents.
With a single ring and a live band, the circus brings the audiencean intimate performance, sometimes even pulling members into it. Each season, the circus has a different theme. This year, it is “Metamorphosis,” as in the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly.
“We have a girl, her name is Tato, and she really comes across as the nerd of the show, but at the end of the show she blossoms into a beautiful butterfly,” Kane said. “You wonder what she is all about when you are watching the show, like what is the deal with this girl, but when you see this [balancing act] she does in the second act … she brings down the house.”
The theme is subtle. It does not make its way into the show beyond the character Tato, played by Tatevik Seyranyan. However, Kane added that Metamorphosis is also a reference to a famous Harry Houdini magic trick of the same name, in which Houdini was able to switch places with a person in a locked box. There is a homage to this trick at the beginning of the show.
“I don’t think you need a theme sometimes. We have the finest acts and a live orchestra and an excellent ringmaster, and that is the classic circus. Sometimes, shows can get bogged down with themes,” Kane said. “The nice thing about our themes is that they bring in different directors so it is not the same director every year, and every director looks at the circus in a different way.”
The 2014-15 Big Apple Circus is directed by West Hyler, whose background is not in the circus but on Broadway, where he was the associate director for “Jersey Boys” and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” This influence brings a new perspective to the show. It was his idea to use Tato’s awkwardness to the show’s advantage, according to Kane.
Every year, the circus changes its acts, leading to some unusual additions to this season’s show.
“This year with Big Apple, we have more animals than we have ever had before,” Kane said. “With the size of our tent, we don’t do lions or tigers or elephants – the audience is too close – but if you think of any other animal, [Jenny Vidbel] has it in this year’s show.”
Vidbel, the animal trainer, appears several times throughout the show, bringing with her a variety of domestic household pets as well as llamas, camels, horses, goats, miniature horses and a porcupine.
The show features two aerial trapeze performances, which finish off each of the two acts. One is a classic flying trapeze act by the Aniskin Troupe, and the other is a space-themed aerial balancing act by husband-and-wife duo Giovanni Anastasini and Irene Espana. The Anastasinis’ two sons, Fabio, 18, and Giuliano, 26, also perform in the Big Apple Circus.
“I was in a state of awe, especially when those two girls went in the box,” Tom McCarthy from Boston said, referring to a trick in which two contortionists fit into a box at the same time and then closed the lid on themselves.
McCarthy was at the circus with his daughter Claudia, whose favorite part of the show was the costume change act, in which Olga Smirnov of the Smirnov duo changes 10 outfits in three and a half minutes. This is one of several magic-inspired portions of the show.
As a nonprofit, the Big Apple Circus runs a number of charity programs, including Clown Care, a program that sends clowns to do magic in children’s hospitals. The program is in place at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as 13 other hospitals across the country.
Big Apple also hosts the Circus of the Senses, which provides a free circus experience to deaf and blind children. Blind children wear headsets throughout the show that describe what is going on as it happens, and there are interpreters to sign the speaking parts for the hearing–impaired. At the end of the show, the blind children are allowed into the ring to pet the animals and interact with the props. This year, the demand for Circus of the Senses was so high in Boston that, for the first time ever, there were two sensory shows.
After its success with the Circus of the Senses, the Big Apple Circus also developed an autism–friendly show. With the lights up and the band and ringmaster’s microphone turned down, kids are free to be loud and get out of their seats.
“What’s great about this is everyone is screaming out, and it is really about having those families be able to do something as a family without having to be embarrassed or apologetic,” Kane said. “It is only our first year of the autism shows, but slowly we are learning how to do them better and better.”
The Big Apple Circus is performing at Government Center through May 10. Tickets start at $20 and are available at http://www.bigapplecircus.org. On Wednesdays, tickets are are buy-one-get-one-free for a 75–minute condensed version of the show.