Theater & dance

Stage Review

Some surprising twists at the Big Apple Circus

Juliana Crawford
Spicy Circus is one of the acts in the Big Apple Circus.

PEABODY — This year, the Big Apple Circus pitches its tent at the back of the Northshore Mall. But it never seems to matter where the tent is, because once inside the big top, the circus magic casts its spell.

Although this year’s installment feels a tad abbreviated (each of the two acts clocks in at 45 minutes, though at the show I saw, aerial-silks couple Desire of Flight did not perform), the circus once again blends familiar routines with several refreshing new acts worth the price of admission. Among the standouts this year are Emil Faltyny’s Ladder Act, Duo Fusion, and the Spicy Circus, each of which took the notions of acrobatics and balancing and spun them in surprising new ways.

Faltyny is up first, scampering up and down a free-standing ladder, before raising the stakes by adding a “rocking” ladder, standing at the top while balancing, on his forehead, a pole attached to a huge cube. Only then, at a crazy height, does he kick in a soccer ball over his head for an impressive goal.

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Duo Fusion features the married couple Ihosvanys Perez and Virginia Tuells — billed as the “strongest mom in the world” in a balancing and acrobatic act that makes astonishing core strength an equal opportunity. At first, Perez guides Tuells into impressive gymnastic poses, but then Tuells bends into a bridge and allows her husband to do a handstand on her abdomen before another combination in which he bends her into an impossible split. The climax comes when she holds her entire body horizontally with just one hand on her husband’s head. One of the advantages of the Big Apple’s intimate setting is we can always see the expressions of concentration — rarely a grimace — on the performers’ faces.

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At the top of Act 2, the Spicy Circus was a highlight. In this routine, a troupe of gymnasts bounces from dual trampolines set up on either side of a structure made up of transparent walls and windows. The gymnasts effortlessly bounce from the trampolines to the top of the structure, against the walls and through the windows out to the other side. The synchronized movements of the five gymnasts left my companions stunned and gasping, especially when they somersaulted off the top of the structure, bounced on the trampolines and back up to a different level of the structure without missing a beat.

This year’s clowning duo of Mark Gindick and Adam Kuchler pretends Gindick is an audience member who accidentally wanders into the ring, and Kuchler is supposed to teach him some circus tricks. The premise is a little lame, particularly since Gindick, who’s been with the Big Apple Circus for several years and has a repertoire of his own routines, never really gets to break out. Still, the duo provide the antics that keep the little ones giggling, including a musical performance using bells attached to a suit jacket, and a juggling act with boxes. An audience participation routine included a very game dad for a pantomimed “roller coaster” experience.

The ringmaster this year is Stephanie Monseu, whose resume includes fire swallowing and juggling as well as experience as one of the founders of the more adult Bindlestiff Cirkus (they incorporate a bit of burlesque). But Monseu served a very limited master of ceremonies role, something that seemed like a missed opportunity.

Jenny Vidbel presented enchanting animal acts, including matched ponies of varying sizes and a delightful combination of dogs. Gamal Garcia did double duty at the performance I saw, performing a high-speed juggling act in the first half before joining his family, the Flying Tunizianis, for the trapeze finale.

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A special, well-deserved nod to Rob Slowik and the Big Apple Circus band, whose sharp, tight playing not only kept the performers on their toes but kept my young companion grooving in her seat throughout the show.

BIG APPLE CIRCUS

Directed by Mark Lonergan. At NorthShore Mall, Peabody, through May 12. Tickets from $25, 800-745-3000, www.BigAppleCircus.com or www.Ticketmaster.com.

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.