A hot dog vendor transforms into a juggler, a hotel concierge is also the ringmaster, and construction workers perform a balancing act. The Big Apple Circus, which comes to Boston City Hall Plaza from March 25-May 11, has set the action in bustling Times Square for a new show called “Luminocity.”
“Luminocity” uses the urban center as an instantly recognizable landmark, says show director Michel Barette, and then lets the performers take off from there.
“We didn’t have the budget to create multiple screens and projections of all the lights in Times Square,” says Barette, “so we thought it would be fun to have the performers create the light and energy that happens there all day long. Instead of feeling like a compromise, it inspired us and the performers to be creative about how to make Times Square come alive.”
Guillaume Dufresnoy, Big Apple’s artistic director, said he loved Barette’s idea of presenting the vibrancy and diversity of Times Square through circus acts. “Sometimes when we create a theme, it’s tricky to find acts that fit within it,” says Dufresnoy, who began his career with the Big Apple Circus as a performer 27 years ago. “The themes work best when they create a unified frame for the acts. Michel’s theme creates a sense of place and an exciting atmosphere.”
Within the frame of Times Square, Barette says he and Dufresnoy then searched the globe for high-quality acts that might best express Times Square’s range of experiences and the characters who pass through there. Ringmaster John Kennedy Kane serves as a tour guide and concierge, and the audience discovers performers amid the denizens of the neighborhood. “The Ringmaster is not the traditional barker,” says Barette, “but is much more sympathetic, someone who directs the audience’s attention, but is also their accomplice, helping them feel even closer to the action.”
There are little stories, Barette says, but they amplify the sense of place. The teeter-board act, the Dosov Troupe from Russia, arrives on the scene as funny tourists; the high-wire act, Duo Guerrero (Werner Guerrero and Aura Cardinali, from Portugal) represents a couple on a romantic date in New York; the trapeze artists, Davaasuren Altantsetseg and Narangua Altankhuyag, from Mongolia, are corporate workers trying to get above the daily slog.
“We wanted them to be people you could run into in Times Square,” says Dufresnoy, “until they turn into astonishing circus performers.”
Finding the right performers and putting them together in an order that creates a great show is like creating a meal, says Barette, who is directing a Big Apple Circus show for the sixth time. “You go to the market and find fresh things that catch your eye, then you add some spices and let it cook. Our goal is always to make it heartwarming and pleasurable.”
Barette says he and Dufresnoy looked at acts with an eye for who would respond to the theme. “We were thinking we needed someone to be the hot dog vendor, and we thought the scene lent itself to a juggler,” Barette says, “When we looked around, we found Ty Tojo, a fabulous young, dynamic performer from Japan.” Tojo, who is 15, has set Guinness world records for his juggling feats.
The Big Apple’s seven-week run marks the circus’s 29th season in Boston — and 36th season overall. The Boston engagement is the longest outside of New York City, where the Big Apple was founded. (It also runs the Clown Care unit at Boston Children’s Hospital, one of 16 pediatric hospitals that participate in the program.)
Barette says the Big Apple Circus has the advantage of maintaining a small core of company performers, particularly animal trainer Jenny Vidbel. “The company will provide us with the missing link, and very early in the process she worked with us to develop an act with the menagerie she has.” It is becoming more unusual now for smaller circuses to integrate animal acts, but Barette says the care Vidbel provides her animals brings out their personalities. “Audiences love to see these animals perform,” he says, “and this year she has dogs, horses, and a capybara. They are cute and fun.”
Mostly, says Dufresnoy, the Big Apple Circus tries to come up with a variety of acts that both children and adults can enjoy. “Our goal is to present the best possible circus entertainment, so that people will return every year to see what we’ve come up with this time.”