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Five reasons you should catch Big Apple Circus before it leaves town

Written by
David Cote

Like us, you’re probably at that weird place between the holidays and New Year’s Eve: a little exhausted, a tad hungover, slightly overfed and sick of all the tinsel, carols, gifts and Santa imagery. Now is the perfect time for the Big Apple Circus, which continues the death-defying merriment at Lincoln Center through January 10. For those dazed after too many toasts and rich meals, the circus is a prime chance to relax, regain your wonder and feel like a kid again. This year’s edition is called The Grand Tour, directed with abundant finesse and panache by Time Out favorite Mark Lonergan. As the title indicates, the show’s acrobatic, animal and clowning acts are loosely structured around the idea of a trip around the world. We had a blast when we went. But, if you need more convincing here are five reasons:

It’s an un-holiday show
Bless Big Apple Circus’ pagan heart: This is no ersatz lesson on the value of forgiveness or sharing, nor a grossly commercial repackaging of Christmas-themed movies. You won’t have to fight through crowds of tourists to see it in an airplane hangar, as you do for the Radio City Rockettes. No piety or pretensions here, just amazing artists from around the world juggling, swiveling dozens of hoops and risking life and limb for your profane pleasure!

Dogs, dogs, dogs—and more dogs
Jenny Vidbel and Emily McGuire’s routine is humbly listed as “Dog Act” in the program, but it’s so much more than that—a canine lover’s glimpse of Paradise. The trainers’ motley mutts dash around the ring, play jump-rope, judge wine at a fancy restaurant, or in the case one very talented poodle, push a scooter along with one of its hinds legs. If horses are more your thing, Vidbel gently puts a group of majestic equines through their paces.

Watch kids’ heads explode
Part of the fun of going to the circus as an adult is just to watch the kids freaking out over animal acts and the sort of stunt work they only see in comic books or on TV. Some kids laugh their heads off at the silliest stuff; or they sit there gaping, paralyzed by wonder and even fear, as if to say, Is that a bunch of live flippin’ horses galloping around the ring in front of my flippin’ face?!? At intermission, the kiddies even get pony rides around the ring ($10 a pop!) and that’s painfully cute stuff, too. The helicoptering and picture-tweeting parents…we can’t vouch for.

The clowning is genuinely funny
Let’s give a shout-out to Joel Jeske, who contributes the clown material to the show that will have you chuckling aplenty. Jeske and Brent McBeth (who both appeared in the anarchic treat Everybody Gets Cake!) play porters on the ship that takes us across the Atlantic for our European tour. Jeske is the hot-tempered martinet; McBeth is the pranking trickster. One routine involves Jeske repeatedly looking in a porthole, which McBeth throws a bucket of water through. Okay, in print, it may not sound funny, but believe me, it is.

Your jaw will hit the floor
When I go to the theater, I sort of know how it’s done: I’ve acted. I’ve directed. I’ve written plays and even lyrics to songs. But the circus is where a grown-ass man or woman will see, say, Alexander Koblikov juggling balls like liquid mercury or Eric & Jayson Dominguez ride the massive, terrifying Wheel of Wonder and actually cry out, “Omigod! Shut the front door!” or awestruck exclamations to that effect. The climax of the night is the Dosov Troupe doing its insane acrobatic work on teeterboard—launching each other into 20-foot-high backflips onto people stacked three or four high on each others’ shoulders. Again, language can’t do justice to the visual and kinetic thrills of the Big Apple Circle. Just go: Get a hot dog or popcorn or soda—but be prepared to spit it out all over the row in front of you. Don't worry; they'll understand.

Big Apple Circus: The Grand Tour is at Damrosch Park until Jan 10. Get tickets here.

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