“Dream Big” is this season’s Big Apple Circus theme; the idea of dreaming is manifested in woozy, steampunk/sci-fi/faux-Cirque du Soleil styling. The new team of Renaud Doucet and Andre Barbe, stage director and designer, have much international experience, especially directing opera. The lineup seems smaller than in previous years, with several acts appearing more than once in each show.
Grandma, the wonderfully wry clown played for decades by Barry Lubin, is having his farewell season; this 34th show, in general, is short on clowning. It’s long on other surprises, though, like a capybara (the world’s largest rodent) and an extremely punk-styled crested porcupine, along with several well-trained dogs and a trio of lovely horses.
A huge silver machine adorned with silver umbrellas disgorges a robot-like juggler who keeps his balls in pockets all over his costume, but his actual act seems merely an afterthought. The Shandong Acrobats, on the other hand, do astonishing things with jumpropes, like forming a pyramid of six guys who clear the rope all at once, and the Flying Cortes are breathtaking.
From time to time the dream edges into nightmare; it’s one of the darker Big Apple incarnations I’ve seen. A little girl pulled from the audience refuses to wear a funny hat, and disappears into the vaguely Grand Guignol set. But do not be alarmed — her final reappearance is one of the highlights of the show.