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The Big Apple Circus, Aesop’s Fables

Posted 11/5/2019

Big Apple Circus reviewed  by Fern Siegel for

The Big Apple Circus is a nifty combination of thrills, punctuated by genuinely sweet moments. It’s the antithesis of computer-generated high-tech entertainment: human and heartfelt.

And while past years have been more theme-oriented, the 2019 incarnation is about the purity of the circus turf, with acts punctuated by the kooky but charming comedian Amy Gordon as the wonderful Pigeon.

Through February 2 at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, the Big Apple Circus is led by new bluesy-singing ringmaster Storm Marrero. The aerial artists are uniformly gifted, beginning with Maryna Tkachenko and Tetyana Yudina, the trapeze acrobats of the Aliev Troupe and the jaw-dropping Lopez Troupe, which bikes across a high wire! 

This year, in the agility department, Rafael Ferreira, who uses a wheelchair, and Alan Pagnota of Dupla Mão na Roda (“four hands and two wheels”) perform amazing balancing acts, proving there are no limitations to circus performers.

Jayson Dominguez excites in his Wheel of Death, skipping rope atop the fast-moving wheel to eye-popping crowds. His dexterity is stunning.

The Explosion Duo (Abel Driggs and Daniel Bridon Benitez) seemingly use a pole to defy gravity, while animal acts, like The Savitsky Cats and acrobats Caleb Carinci and Renny Spencer atop horses, complete the delightful show.

All the performances are co-directed with an eye on vibrant entertainment by Cecil MacKinnon and Jack Marsh, aided by Janine Delwarte and Ada Westfall’s music, which kicks up the tension. Lighting designer Jesse Alford and Tony-nominated costume designer Emilio Sosa, create a singular world for children and adults.

In the tradition-with-a-twist department, Aesop’s Fables, now at the New Victory Theater, offers a musical take, courtesy of the South African Isango Ensemble. The troupe takes classic tales into the realm of social justice, challenging an audience to rethink the origins of some of the best-known stories in literature.

However, those expecting the actual tales may be disappointed, or at least confused. The show centers on Aesop, a slave trying to earn his freedom by gaining wisdom from animals. The arc of the story concerns his journey to Mount Olympus, where he encounters the tortoise and the hare, the fox, and other familiar Aesopian characters, whimsically presented as anything from a barbershop quartet to reggae beachcombers.

The cast is led by Siphosethu Hintsho, whose heartfelt pathos and infectious joy fills the theater. He is ably supported by an ensemble of musicians, actors and singers with no shortage of charisma, bringing light and sparkle to an otherwise spare stage.

Still, kids under eight may have difficulty following some of the narrative, or even hearing some of the speeches as the use of masks, particularly in the figure of Zeus, occasionally muffle delivery. Moreover the choice of imagining Aesop’s origin story will likely be lost on younger audiences.

Adults, though, may be inspired to think in new ways, finding an opportunity to broaden their children’s experience of theater, literature and history. —Fern Siegel