By Kay Kipling
For Circus Sarasota aficionados, the thrill of live performance never goes away. That’s been true year after year, no matter the changing line-up of performers and the blend of acts provided.
Undoubtedly sometimes it’s a challenge for circus co-founder Pedro Reis to come up with new, different or more exciting performances. But there are certain acts that always seem to awe the crowd (and, by the way, this year’s show title is Wonderstruck).
One of those acts continues to be aerial artist Dolly Jacobs, who with partner Rafael Palacios has added some new movements to her high-flying, romantically themed act. Their pas de deux is one of grace and seeming ease no matter how much work goes into it behind the scenes.
Like Jacobs and many other circus performers, equestrienne Caroline Williams comes from a circus family and has grown up with horses. While her animals do some of the familiar (if no less tricky for a horse) side stepping and bowing, perhaps the most amazing thing about this act is that she manages several quick costume changes behind a screen while apparently still astride the horse. One would like to know how she manages that.
The circus wouldn’t be complete without a juggler. Laido Dittmar does a bit with what look like Olympic rings, and foot juggler Jan Navratil moves about a large rectangular frame with increasingly rapid movements; his biggest surprise, though, comes with an extended coatrack-looking device with small platforms (and on the top, a cup) upon which he manages to make a ball land (although it took a couple of tries the night I saw him). A clown act is always needed, too; Tony and Jeanette Alexis’s broad skits mostly amuse the young (very young) set.
Wire walker Erik Niemen manages to do things on the wire most of us could not accomplish on the ground, including jumping through a hoop and backwards somersaults (although he did suffer a fall on one occasion, he was quickly back up and successful). Luciano Anastasini’s dog act, brought to the stage in a Thomas the Tank locomotive and train, is fun and heartwarming, since the members are all pound puppies. And Cornel Tell’s crossbow act is a bit of a change; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one of these before. Naturally the highlight here involves an apple (I won’t reveal all the details of how he shoots it), and it’s a nice touch that the apple ends up with an audience member after he’s done.
But I was probably the most “wonderstruck” by two other acts: first, the ballet on shoulder performance of Miao Changwei and Lin Deng. He’s stocky and strong and she’s amazingly light and able to bend her body in unbelievable ways, all with a smile on her face. You think it’s enough when she actually goes on pointe on his shoulders, but then—yes, you guessed it—she does it on his head, with just one foot. Pretty incredible.
The final act, featuring the Flying Cortes trapeze artists, was likewise a performance to make me gasp—not least because this night one of the members landed in the webbing directly above me while trying to execute the fiendishly difficult triple somersault plus a half. The fact it didn’t come off somehow does not make the audience any less appreciative of the agility and daring of the troupe. Again, at the circus you’re seeing it all live and sometimes just inches from your face—and for decades to come that should continue to strike wonder.
Circus Sarasota (presided over by ringmaster Tyron McFarlan) continues at the Big Top at 12th Street and Tuttle Avenue through Feb. 23; for tickets call 355-9805 or go to circusarts.org.