My kids and I got as close as we probably ever will to being in the circus. Inside a circus tent, with only one ring of performers and no seat further than 16 rows away, the Big Apple Circus really makes you feel like you are part of the action. While we weren’t among the lucky (unlucky?) audience members to get pulled into the ring by a clown, we did get to join him with clapping, a silly song, and passing a giant ball around. And we definitely had the feeling that we were an arm’s reach from some pretty cool feats.
Set up in an empty lot a 10-minute walk from the Dulles Town Center Mall, the giant white tent has a different feel than seeing a show in the Verizon Center or other large performance venue. There’s a live band on an elevated platform next to the ring, and stepping out for the bathroom or to buy snacks doesn’t mean going very far.
The show’s theme, Metamorphosis, is loosely reference throughout the show with the ringmaster talking about transformations, and a performer at one point receiving costume wings. But really, the show is a series of circus acts. From a pair of contortionists squeezing into a tiny clear box to horses galloping around with goats on their backs, there are lots of risky and how-do-they-do-that? moments.
There are drawbacks to the intimate, tented theater-in-the-round style show. There were times that the performers’ backs were to us, and times when a spotlight shone right in our faces. A shower of hand chalk rained down on us as we contorted ourselves in our seats in an effort to watch the trapeze artists directly above us. The temperature is controlled for hot or cold temps, but we were warm in the first half and comfortable in the second.
In between about 10 major acts, there was lots of banter by the ringmaster, goofiness by the clown, and smaller bits. There are displays of strength, balance, rhythm, flexibility, and magic. My family is still trying to figure out how one woman’s clothes were changed a dozen times when a cloth was dropped around her! My crew liked seeing the contortionists best (“They must do a lot of yoga,” declared my five-year-old), with the diabolo performers coming in second (they have two sticks attached with string and throw and catch an hourglass-shaped object). The animal act in the first half of the show had some cute tricks (the ringmaster pointed out that some of the animals are rescue animals, and the circus doesn’t seem to come under much flak for treatment of animals). We were least enthralled by a second animal act that had pairs of horses, camels, ponies, and llamas mostly going in circles (I don’t doubt it’s hard to train those animals but it dragged on and lacked the wow factor of other acts).
Being in such a small venue with just one ring to focus on, the Big Apple Circus manages to not be overwhelming while still providing a ton of thrills. It’s great for all ages – from a first-circus run with little ones, to a special outing with older kids who can really appreciate the physical feats.
- Metamorphosis runs through October 5, 2014. Tickets start at $20; children under 3 are free when they sit on an adult’s lap.
- The show runs two hours including a 15-minute intermission.
- The lines weren’t too long for bathrooms and snacks at intermission. Food prices were typical for events but not too outrageous — we got a giant popcorn tub for $6 and a drink for $4.
- The bathrooms are either porta-potties or a trailer with stalls and sinks. There is a folding table set up as a changing table in a tented area near the ticket taker entrance (but they could use a sign in the bathroom that indicates this).
- There is also stroller parking in the tented area near the ticket taker entrance.
- I’m not familiar with Dulles Town Center, so pulling into the mall roads I had no idea how to find the circus. We drove around until stumbling on a sign pointing us to circus parking. Outside the Macy’s entrance that is closest to Dick’s Sporting Goods, there is a shuttle area. We took the shuttle van to the circus and then followed the crowds of people on the 10-minute walk back to the car (rather than wait for the shuttle).
- On our walk to the car, we passed a nice playground, Hadley’s Park (at the corner of Kent Drive and Dulles Center Boulevard), that’s accessible for kids with disabilities. It would be a good place to let kids run around before or after. The walk felt safer and shorter than I thought from looking out the window on our shuttle ride, with a police officer helping for safe crossing and lots of sidewalks, grassy areas, and paved paths.
- Photo 1: From Russia, the Aniskin Troupe transports the audience to new heights, showcasing some of the best twists and turns of the century on their trampoline and flying trapeze!
- Photo 2: From the US, Jenny Vidbel guides her beloved animal friends – ponies, puppies and more – through astonishing tricks that’ll have the audience cheering!
- From the U.S., Fabio (top) and Giuliano Anastasini perform an amazing Risley act – Giuliano juggles his brother with his feet!
- All photos by Bertrand Guay/Big Apple Circus.