Evan took me to the Big Apple Circus last night, tucked away in the southwest corner of Lincoln Center these past few months. It was both more and less than I thought it would be. Times are tough here in the Big Apple (I guess times are tough all over, though, huh?), and there were more empty seats than I expected and fewer polished acts.
But there was also, or so it seemed to me, a unique sense of sharing an experience, and a sense of having a vested interest in wanting to make everyone there -- both performers and audience members -- feel good about being there.
I found myself clapping and grinning at the spectacle and chuckling at the old woman sitting behind us with her extended family, who spent the evening giving a play by play of each and every act.
And the more I clapped and the more I smiled, and the more everyone else in that audience clapped and smiled, the less it seemed to matter that the Big Apple Circus is clearly down on its luck, at least compared to the PBS documentary about it that aired just a year or so ago.
No trapeze artists this year, just a lone woman on a big rope swing. No trick horseback riding or tightrope walking, just a woman leading a cavalcade of little white horses in circles around the ring.**
But the pretty little flock of Mongolian contortionists folded themselves into knots and then unfolded like flower petals, opening up and out and back into human form, and this unfurling in particular was beautiful to watch.
And the Bulgarian hand-balancing acrobat's music may have been overblown drivel, but the strength he harbors in those arms was a sight to see.
And the juggler from Ethiopia, with his juggling orange orbs glowing in the dark and flying through the air in time to the music, managed to entrance the crowd despite the smallness, the containedness, of his act.
The evening was in some ways smaller than I expected (the last circus I went to, or rather got dragged to by my parents back in the early '90s, was Ringling Brothers at Madison Square Garden), but also warmer than I expected (more along the lines of the circus before that, a circus I loved, in St. Maries, Idaho sometime in the mid '80s, with its sawdust-covered ring and its wooden benches lining the big top).
We, the audience, wanted to be impressed, wanted the clowns to be endearing, wanted the little boy picked out from the crowd to have the time of his life. And we were, and they were, and he did.
*Announcement at the beginning of the show, in case of a fire or other emergency.
**And dogs. And goats. Oh how I want a goat. Someday, I shall have a goat.