By Arlene McKanick
The Big Apple Circus returns for its 33rd year with an international cast at Cunningham Park in Queens. Called “Dance On!” it will run from May 21 to June 5.
Jenny Vidbel, a third-generation circus performer who brings her little white equines and goats to the show, spoke to the TimesLedger about the upcoming performance and her entertainment influences.
Vidbel’s grandfather was an exotic animal trainer, specializing in elephants, and her grandmother also trained the horses.
“I was around lions and tigers and all sorts of critters,” Vidbel says. “My grandparents taught me to respect them and they were really a part of the family. Elephants were very close and protective so it was a great feeling growing up. I just loved them so much.”
Vidbel’s performers — her “boys” — are 11 Welsh ponies and one tiny, 32-inch tall American miniature horse who brings up the rear. He’s the only one, by the way, who’s, well, whole.
They’re Kenny, George, Jodie, Ian, Tommy, Tarzan, Hank, Randy, Willie, Toby, Cash and Frankie. They’re boys because girls are too temperamental, and the boys “really show the true spirit of the horse,” Vidbel says. Moving them around could be compared to a military campaign.
“The animals are always first,” Vidbel says. “We like to get them to the next spot and situated and comfortable. For me it’s like bringing a traveling farm.” All in all she has about 40 animals. When they’re not working, they live together on her upstate farm in New York, with her retired animals, including pigs, one of which used to roll out the red carpet for her during shows.
“As long as I used a little piece of chocolate in the carpet, he’d roll it out!” Vidbel says.
She has nothing but praise and admiration for her human colleagues, too.
“What a diverse group of people we have. We have a Chinese troupe (the Wuqiao Acrobatic Troupe) that does acrobatic tricks with the lasso, four boys from Kenya (The Kenyan Boys) who do tumbling and are so full of energy.” There’s also a troupe of Mongolian girls, the X Bud Roses Troupe, who do contortions. “They will amaze you how they twist their bodies into pretzels — rhythmically.”
The performers started together in August last year, took most of the winter off and then resumed the tour in April. They include Mark Gindick, the Man Who Dances, Gima Tshehai, who combines juggling with percussion, and Russian native Regina Dobrovitskaya and her cloud swing. Rob Torres, a clown from New Jersey, is one of the few Americans in the circus, and spent a while touring in Europe. Bulgarian Andrey Mantchev gives a hand-balancing performance and Barry Lubin plays the iconic Grandma. Kevin Venardos is the ring master.
The theme of these shows is dancing, which was thought up by artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy. Ann Hould-Ward did the costumes. “This year we started the first half of the show kind of playing and very traditional, and during the show we keep adding color till it’s a big Hollywood finale.” Vidbel says.
Peter Pucci is the choreographer, Eric Michael Gillet is the stage director, Todd Rosenthal is the scenic designer and Rob Slowik returns as the music director.
Circus spokesman Phil Thurston adds, “This is a really wonderful opportunity for people in Queens and Eastern Long Island to come and see the Big Apple Circus. It’s important for people to know that our tent is air conditioned and they’re not gonna be sweltering. They’re going to really enjoy a cool show! And no seat is farther than 50 feet from the ring, so there’s that intimacy. You feel like you’re right in the action. I think people respond to that.”
If YOU GO
Big Apple Circus
Where: Cunningham Park, 196-22 Union Turnpike, Fresh Meadows
When: May 21 – June 5, Tues – Fri, 10 a.m. – 8p.m.; Sat – Mon, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Cost: Tickets start at $15
Contact: To purchase tickets call 888-541-3750 or visit bigapplecircus.org.
Web site: bigapplecircus.org