For this year’s 46th anniversary season, the Big Apple Circus (founded by Paul Binder and Michael Christensen in 1977, as a more intimate one-ring alternative to the American three-ring circus) has teamed up with the famed German-based Circus-Theater Roncalli (which celebrated its opening in May 1976, with top-notch cutting-edge acts that were not found in any other circus production at the time, and since 2018, has abandoned the use of real animals in its performances) for the world premiere of an all-new Journey to the Rainbow (the original version of which was debuted by Roncalli at Cologne’s Neumarkt in June 1980).
The one-ring cirque nouveau – a new genre of circus that developed simultaneously in France, Australia, the US, and the UK in the 1970s-80s – contains acrobatic feats, hilarious clowning, historicizing costumes, theatrical themes, music, and a dreamlike aesthetic, offering a fresh take on the classical European circus tradition and transporting audiences to a magical wonderland of artistry and romance, presented under a big-top tent at Big Apple’s home base in NYC’s Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center.
Helmed by Bernhard Paul, the founder and owner of Circus-Theater Roncalli, and its long-time executive Patrick Philadelphia, the show features fourteen circus and variety acts performed by 34 talented artists from around the world in dazzling costumes specially designed for the show, in addition to a company of local dancers and eight live musician playing an original score composed by Roncalli music director Georg Pommer, a variety of lighting and fog effects, and interactive moments and photo opportunities for all ages. And for the first time at the Big Apple Circus, there’s also a museum exhibition of framed photographs and dazzling costumes and props from past shows in the check-in building before you enter the tent, along with concession stands selling treats and souvenirs and a special VIP area on the way in, so be sure to arrive early for the full experience.
Among the amazing circus acts are acrobats, golden-toned bodybuilders as statues come to life, a tightrope walker and a contortionist, jugglers and balancers, performing at eye-level for a close-up view, along with high-flying artists on trapeze and ropes and a cyclist in a rising basket, all bringing the height of the wow-factor to the entertaining show.
They are joined by a troupe of clowns descending in a hot-air balloon, playing musical chairs, taking pratfalls, ringing bells, balancing a stack of chairs, riding a mini-cycle, catapulting a doll on a teeterboard, making bubbles, throwing big balloons into the crowd, making music, and generally adding non-stop merriment to the family-friendly event.
The show is enhanced by a rainbow of lighting effects that accentuates and changes with the different acts and moods, and by an exquisite array of costumes that references a variety of characters and historical eras, from the 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte and its harlequins, the 18th-century French clown Pierrot and the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, to Spanish matadors, modernized ringmaster outfits, a butterfly, polar bears that serve as adorable substitutes for the live animals, and even a big top tent and chandelier.
Journey to the Rainbow embodies a new kind of circus that is less death-defying and more artistic. It’s a milder and gentler experience that pays homage to the long history of circus arts while creating an up-close and personal experience for kids and adults alike and a delightful event for the holiday season.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including an intermission.
Journey to the Rainbow plays through Monday, January 1, 2024, at Big Apple Circus, performing at Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center, Amsterdam Avenue and West 62nd Street, NYC. For tickets (starting at $24.95), go online.